MOH to cover obstetricians in retirement 

PUBLIC sector doctors who deliver babies need not fret about a lack of insurance protection against lawsuits after they retire, despite a change that had left them vulnerable.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it will continue to provide these doctors with full coverage even after they retire.

An MOH spokesman told The Straits Times last week: "The public hospitals are committed to covering their retiring obstetricians but will require time to sort out the details and other issues. This has been communicated to their obstetricians."

The issues include what happens should the obstetrician move to the private sector instead of working until retirement in public hospitals.

Of the 311 obstetricians here, 91 work in public hospitals, with more than 200 in private practice.

Many of these doctors had expressed worry after The Straits Times reported in February that the London-based Medical Protection Society (MPS), which provides insurance coverage for most obstetricians here, was changing the way it protects these doctors, starting this month.

With the change, obstetricians are now covered by the MPS only for incidents reported while they are members.

As most usually stop subscribing to the MPS on retirement, this leaves them with no insurance protection if they are sued after retirement.

This is a risk, given that babies have 24 years from the time they are born to lodge a complaint against their doctor.

While such cases are rare, they can cost a doctor millions of dollars if he loses the lawsuit. Even an unsuccessful suit can set the doctor back by tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The MPS, whose change of policy also affects obstetricians in other countries, has offered five years of post-retirement coverage for no higher than 1.75 times the highest annual subscription they have paid - which currently stands at $36,000.

But some obstetricians are concerned about whether the not-for-profit society will continue covering them, and at what cost, for the next 18 years or so.

Meanwhile, in response to the change, some obstetricians have raised their fees, from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, while others have switched their insurance coverage to NTUC Income from the MPS.

Several older private practice obstetricians, in their 60s and even early 70s, have opted to call it a day, raising concerns about whether there will be enough such doctors here.

In response, the MOH spokesman said that obstetrics is the third-largest speciality here, so there are enough doctors "to take on the load of retiring obstetricians".

She added: "We also have a significant number of trained registered midwives - 1,337 in total, with 572 working in the public sector as of Dec 31, 2014 - to enable continued access to obstetric services by the public."

This article was first published on Apr 13, 2015.
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