Proposal would protect volunteer doctors

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WASHINGTON -- Waiting rooms are often full at community health centers, which operate on limited budgets and provide care even when patients can't pay.

Private-practice doctors from the region who would be willing to donate services to help ease the burden on centers' staffs are stymied by a federal law. But members of Congress, including Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, are trying to change that.

The Federal Court Claims Act provides malpractice protection for physicians employed by the health centers but doesn't cover physicians who want to volunteer. Mr. Murphy wants to extend to volunteer medical professionals the same malpractice protections given to paid clinic employees.

"This is an example of real bipartisan reform that helps people get the health care they need when they need it, close to home, and at an affordable cost," the congressman said. "Isn't that what we all want with health care?"

Dubbed the Family Health Accessibility Act, his legislation was the subject of a recent hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

"There are many health care professionals who want to assist health centers in serving their communities, and addressing this unmet need by volunteering their services. However the risk of liability and the high cost of supplemental medical liability insurance often prove to be too burdensome," testified Robert Mt.Joy, chief executive officer of Cornerstone Care in Greensburg, which has 186 employees serving 23,000 patients.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates it would cost the federal government $30 million to extend coverage to volunteer doctors for five years.

Nationwide, there are 1,200 community health centers in 9,000 communities.

Mr. Murphy's bill has 10 Republican co-sponsors and eight Democratic co-sponsors, including Rep. Mike Doyle of Forest Hills.

Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello:, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.

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