By Barbara Harris

Jackson Advocate News Service
Jackson, Mississippi

March 3, 2005

(Jackson, Mississippi) - Embattled Tchula physician Dr. Ronald V. Myers Sr. has gained the support of the National Medical Association, the country’s organization of African American doctors. Dr. Winston Price and Dr. Albert W. Morris Jr., president and chairman of the board of the NMA, respectively, joined Myers Wednesday at the State Capitol for a rally supporting his ongoing struggle to provide medical care to patients in the poverty-stricken Mississippi Delta. Dr. Frank McCune, president of the National Juneteenth Medical Commission, and other supporters participated in the rally as well.

Myers was forced to halt his medical practice and close clinics in Tchula, Belzoni, Greenville and Indianola when his malpractice insurance expired on Jan. 1. Though no malpractice claims have been filed against him in 17 years of practice, the state-established Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi refused to renew his coverage citing Myers as high risk. His stalled practice deprives more than 3,000 of the state’s poorest residents of health care, including rural shut-in patients he visits on house calls – an almost obsolete routine.

Myers contends MACM is discriminating against him because of the position he takes on many issues, including treating chronic pain patients. He believes the insurance provider’s all-white board of directors took particular issue with testimony he rendered during a 2004 legislative committee hearing on health issues.

Dr. Winston Price also attended public gatherings and protest rallies for Myers Tuesday in Tchula and Belzoni.

“I am here as a mediator,” Price told the Advocate. “I will be talking with the members of the malpractice provider’s board and officials of the Mississippi Medical and Surgical Association, working toward a resolution to get Dr. Myers back to practicing.”

The Mississippi Medical and Surgical Association is the state’s organization of African American physicians.

“Getting Dr. Myers back to practicing is my most immediate concern,” Price said. “But it is important that the state’s black doctors, despite any differences they may have, be unified for their common cause – eradicating illness and disease,” he stressed. “It’s going to take a team effort to do that.”

Price praised Dr. Myers for the sacrifices he makes to practice in the Mississippi Delta – America’s Third World – and urged black doctors to network.

“This man is the man! It has been evident in all our travels together,” he said. “The people in the Delta love him.”

“Our job at the national is to bring more doctors like him into the area to provide health care for its citizens,” the NMA president said. “We don’t want doctors to be denied malpractice insurance because providers determine practicing in the Delta to be high risk.”

Price said that according to the information he has been received on Mississippi’s new tort reform law, the legislation does not favor increasing access to medical care for the poor or reducing malpractice premiums for doctors. In addition, recent studies conducted by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights citing tort and insurance reform measures in several states, show that damage caps won’t lower doctors’ malpractice insurance premiums.

California began tort reform in 1976; and in the 13 years that followed, malpractice insurance premiums rose 450 percent, the consumer watchdog group found. On the other hand, studies also show that California’s insurance reform initiative of 1988, Proposition 103, lowered doctors’ premiums 20 percent within the first three years. Prop 103 has saved the state’s doctors more than $50 million in insurance premiums since 2004.

Marsh USA executive Timothy Ward recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee chair on the impact of a non-economic damage cap on the South Carolina Joint Underwriting Association that covers 80 percent of that state’s doctors. Ward said he did not determine any premium savings for doctors with JUA.

“The impact on the JUA rating structure is much more difficult to determine,” he said. “Our impact would be primarily in the reduction of legal expenses and potentially lower frequency.” “Marsh USA is the nation’s third malpractice insurer in as many years to break industry silence and admit that damage caps don’t help doctors,” Carmen Balber, consumer advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said. “It’s time lawmakers stop swallowing industry lies and implement strong rate regulation and insurance reform – the only proven way to bring down malpractice premiums,” she said.

Following Wednesday’s rally at the Capitol, the doctors met with state legislators, including Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, who said he was sensitive to Dr. Myers situation. Myers, Price and Morris also met with Dr. Hershey.

Dr. Price said it appears Mississippi legislators he spoke to are uncertain about the content and impact of the state’s tort reform law. He said he would take a closer look at the statute because there could be a problem with its interpretation.


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