August 1999 Bulletin

Liability hinders health care

Committee to explore solutions, create database of state laws

Liability exposure of orthopaedic volunteers in the United States is a significant barrier that must be overcome, says Edward Anthony Rankin, MD, chairman of the newly formed Volunteer Orthopaedic Care Committee.

"For practicing physicians who have malpractice insurance and want to volunteer, liability really isn't an issue," says Dr. Rankin. "But it is for the retired person who doesn't carry malpractice insurance and is on a lower adjusted income. And buying malpractice insurance in order to volunteer is just not feasible."

The committee met in June to explore volunteer opportunities, develop and promote programs to foster involvement and discuss the overriding issue of liability. One of the committee's charges is to research and identify institutions, insurers and other sources that will provide low-cost liability insurance, such as physician-owned insurance companies.

"We also really need to develop a strong liaison with state medical societies and the state and local governments to maximize opportunities to provide non-reimbursed health care," said Dr. Rankin.

Because immunity coverage varies from state to state, one of the committee's goals is to establish a centralized Academy database listing state and federal laws that currently protect U.S. volunteers. This database also will include domestic, as well as international volunteer opportunities.

Committee members agreed that there also is a need to create federal and state programs under which physicians would be offered some type of government-sponsored liability coverage that would give volunteer physicians nonreimbursed government employee status.


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