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US Faces Obstetrician Shortage


If you're pregnant in America, you may have a problem finding a doctor to deliver your baby.

For instance, three of the counties in New York State -- America's third-most-populous state -- have no obstetricians at all. The Plains state of Nebraska has identified 79 of its 93 counties as critically short of birthing doctors. And 14 percent of the members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists surveyed reported they had stopped delivering babies.

How come? The obstetricians say medical malpractice premiums have become so outrageous that they can't, or won't, pay them any more. They say their specialty is a favorite target of lawsuits, because juries have deep sympathy for mothers whose newborns die or are deformed -- and they often award them super-high damages. So obstetricians' insurance costs are shooting up as much as 40 percent a year.

And obstetrics is a tough job. Who wants to be on call all day and night, every day, when other specialties are easier and pay better?

So who's filling the void in the delivery room? Not midwives, if that's what you're thinking. Midwifery has not caught on in a big way in America. But hospital obstetricians are playing a bigger role. They are managing patients who are in labor, handling birthing emergencies, and delivering babies for women who have no insurance or whose personal doctors can't get to the hospital fast enough. There's even a new name for these hospital obstetricians. They're called "laborists."

We must point out that lawyers' groups and some consumer advocates suspect the medical industry of wildly exaggerating the obstetrician shortage to convince states to set a limit on insurance judgments.

Meanwhile, the pregnant women of Nebraska are still having a tough time finding a doctor to help them deliver their babies.