ANNAPOLIS – Garrett County residents might soon be forced to go elsewhere to give birth.
Babies at Garrett County Memorial Hospital are delivered by four family physicians because the county has no obstetricians or gynecologists. These four doctors in the past have paid about $20,000 for their insurance premiums, a rate typical for low-risk practices.
But their insurers announced this fall that family physicians would be forced to pay the same insurance costs as obstetricians and obstetrician-gynecologists in 2005, which in some cases totals more than $100,000. The rate increases have patients and doctors worried that obstetrics services in the area are in jeopardy.
“The females in this area need these physicians,” said Holly Warne, who gave birth to a daughter at Garrett County Memorial on Dec. 10. “It’s going to be a terrible loss if we do lose the physicians in this.”
“This is not about me — it’s about our patients here,” said Karl Schwalm, the Garrett County family physician who delivered Warne’s baby. “They’re going to have to go to Cumberland (Md.) or Morgantown (W.Va.) . . . We have some Amish people here who don’t even believe in cars, and they won’t be able to go two hours away and will be forced to deliver at home. . . . It’s sad.”
Schwalm, who has practiced for 25 years, paid an $18,000 insurance premium in 2004. He will pay $26,000 next year, but can no longer perform Caesarean sections or administer anesthetics.
He said he considered retirement until one of the other three Garrett County family doctors decided to leave first.
Patricia Gotsch, who has practiced for 11 years and delivered Warne’s first child, is quitting to work in Bethlehem, Pa., where the hospital will pay for her insurance.
Rising rates aren’t the only reason she’s departing, Gotsch said, but it “moved the timetable up.” Her last day at GCMH is Dec. 31, the day before her new rate would kick in.
About 20 percent of babies in Garrett County are born via Caesarean section. Because Schwalm can no longer perform them, family doctor Ken Buczynski said he had to take out an insurance policy covering him for this surgical procedure.
Buczynski began his practice in Garrett County in October and was expecting to pay a $20,000 premium for next year.
But 10 days before he sold his house in Kansas — in anticipation of his move to Maryland — Buczynski was informed that his 2005 rate would be more than five times higher than predicted: $108,000.
“That’s more than what my salary is,” he said. “All my work delivering babies for the entire year would cover the insurance . . . That’s all.”
A spokesman for Medical Mutual — the company that insures Buczynski — said the rate increases are necessary because malpractice payouts have grown over the past few years, especially in high-risk practices, such as surgery and obstetrics.
A spokeswoman for GCMH said the hospital does not have OB-GYNs because it is difficult to attract them to rural areas, such as Garrett County.
Garrett County family physicians deliver about 300 babies per year and have offered their services since the hospital opened in 1950, according to a Nov. 18 article in The Republican.
Although concerned that Maryland legislators have not been able to solve the dilemma, the county’s three remaining family doctors will continue to provide care for now.
“Providing obstetrical services at GCMH is important to our entire community’s well being,” Garrett County family physician Sotiere Savopolous told The Republican.
“The reason we’re willing to deal with such difficult terms,” Buczynski said, “is our patients need it.”