Plastic surgery continues to grow in popularity in the United States. Last year, doctors performed more than 17 million cosmetic procedures, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). This represents an increase of almost a quarter million from the previous year, and all signs point to more growth this year and into the future. Many of these procedures involve non-invasive treatments, such as Botox. We tend not to think of plastic surgery as an area of practice that is incredibly risky, but there are inherent risks to invasive and non-invasive plastic surgery procedures, and of course, there is always the risk of plastic surgery malpractice.
A recent investigation by USA Today sheds light on another risk associated with plastic surgery in the US: uninsured doctors. Practicing without medical malpractice insurance, also known as “going bare,” is disturbingly common. Only some states require that physicians carry medical malpractice insurance. Many have no such requirement.
The Today investigation focused primarily on uninsured doctors in the state of Florida. Not only does the state not require doctors to carry medical malpractice insurance, it requires them to self-report whether or not they have such coverage to the Department of Health. Unfortunately, the Department of Health not only does not verify whether they are telling the truth, but it also does not confirm that doctors without insurance have other funds available to cover medical malpractice claims that may arise.
This is especially troublesome for many reasons. First, Florida is a major destination for plastic surgery procedures. The state also boasts a high volume of practitioners and many popular procedures, such as the Brazilian butt lift, can be obtained more cheaply than in other regions. The Sunshine State also allows doctors to perform plastic surgery without certification in the specialty.
An analysis of insurance data showed that doctors are taking advantage of the ability to avoid paying for malpractice insurance. Almost 7,000 doctors in Florida lack malpractice insurance or other coverage. One out of every five board-certified Florida plastic surgeons has elected to not carry medical malpractice insurance. If a patient encounters such a doctor, there is a high chance if medical malpractice occurs, that patient would be left with substantial bills for necessary corrective treatment. Other disturbing details involving uninsured physicians were revealed in the investigation: those physicians have been disciplined 44% more frequently over the past decade, and they are more likely to have committed criminal offenses than doctors who carry insurance. Also over 100 of those physicians without insurance who are licensed to practice in Florida did so after facing disciplinary action in other states.
The USA Today article opens with the harrowing story of a woman who underwent four blood transfusions and seven surgeries to correct a major medical error that happened during a Brazilian butt lift. Her physician was uninsured, and no lawyer would pursue a medical malpractice claim; she was left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt for the emergency treatment required. She lost her job due to the time off for recovery and was evicted from her home. Her doctor, when reached for comment on why he refused to carry medical malpractice insurance, stated, “Why pay it if you don’t have to?”
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