Garden State Docs Stay Off the Job

February 3, 2003 ( - It may not be easy for New Jersey medical patients to see their regular doctors these days because of a statewide physicians' strike over skyrocketing cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums.

The Medical Society of New Jersey said about half of the state’s 22,000 doctors were involved in the nonemergency work stoppage, according to a Reuters report.   Doctors continued handling emergency procedures. The unusual labor action was aimed at pressuring Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey and the state legislature into capping so-called pain and suffering damages from malpractice lawsuits at $250,000.

Doctors have complained that a growing number of malpractice cases have ended with damages of more than $1 million, forcing insurance premiums to double overnight at a time when physicians already face higher overhead and labor costs in operating their practices.

“There just won’t be enough doctors to take care of everybody,” Dr. Joseph Costabile, president-elect of the Camden County Medical Society, said in a radio interview. “That is why we are doing this, so they can peek into the future.”

New Jersey doctors are not alone in protesting high insurance costs. In early January, two dozen surgeons at four West Virginia hospitals refused to operate. Last July, 50 doctors shut down the only trauma center in Las Vegas for 10 days.

The issue also has captured the attention of President Bush, who has spoken out in favor of a bill that would place a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering awards while also limiting punitive damages intended to punish egregious behavior.