Reluctant Physicians Pressured Through Economic Retaliation
Santa Monica, CA -- As Illinois physicians strike today over their malpractice rates, a secret e-mail from striking New Jersey doctors offers a rare glimpse at the cynical strategizing behind the scenes among the doctors who staged the walkout.
The leaders of the New Jersey strike announce their intention to "cause confusion and inconvenience," pressure reluctant colleagues "both professionally and economically just as any other 'scab'," divert blame from malpractice insurers, and not reschedule cancelled patient appointments in order to "significantly inconvenience them."
The e-mails were obtained by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), a non-profit, non-partisan organization that has studied the medical malpractice crisis. They are available online, at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/healthcare/rp/
"New Jersey physicians have shown their real intention is not to protest insurance premium hikes but to terrorize patients, colleagues and the public into becoming converts to their cause," said Doug Heller, senior consumer advocate with FTCR. "Putting patients at risk for cynical political ends is moral malpractice."
In the e-mails, doctors are advised that when they cancel appointments with patients they:
"SHOULD NOT RESCHEDULE) .We can significantly inconvenience them(which is NOT irresponsible) and direct their anger from this to help our cause. Educate them, have them write letters, make phone calls , write letters to the editor of your local newspaper etc... MOST IMPORTANTLY, our pts must TRULY EXPERIENCE significant delays, inconvenience and INABILITY TO CHOOSE a physician"
The e-mails, which originate from Steven P. Shikiar, MD, FACS, tell doctors that they "must stay on message" when they talk to reporters. According to one of the e-mails, doctors must not "talk about your falling income, rotten HMO's, your busy life, the cost of vacations and cars, your malpractice history. These are irrelevent!" The e-mail also describes the hiring of public relations firms to spin the news.
Another e-mail calls for ostracizing physicians that do not strike through economic pressure, presumably by not offering referrals.
"Any physician who doesn't want to participate shows just how disrespectful he is of his colleagues and of his profession. He should be ostracized by his colleagues both professionally and economically just as any other 'scab'."
They also illustrate that the urgency of the so-called "insurance crisis" appears to be more closely tied to political opportunism and timing than any true malpractice crisis. One e-mail urges doctors to act immediately and not lose the opportunity of the moment:
"1 Month from now we will be at war with Iraq. Perhaps their will be more acts of terrorism perpetrated by maniacs from abroad. The legislature, the press, and the public will not be concerned about our plight and frankly neither will we. The time is now."
FTCR called on New Jersey doctors to immediately call off opportunistic strikes which are harming patients to meet physicians' political goals.