Inside UW Medicine's non-compete: 30-mile radius, $50k fine

Non-compete clauses have become a growing problem for Washington state physicians. Many say restricting where physicians can practice amid a physician shortage and deficiency of services in rural areas can mean patients' options for attaining necessary medical care are increasingly limited, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.

UW Medicine, one of numerous healthcare institutions with non-compete clauses, prohibits specialty physicians from practicing medicine within a 30-mile radius of the UW facility where they previously practiced, while primary care physicians cannot practice within a 10-mile radius. In some cases, physicians are forced to pay hefty fines before they are allowed to practice inside this perimeter.

Julie Lord, MD, a psychiatrist, completed her residency at UW Medicine and then took a job with UW Physicians. As outlined by the non-compete clause in her contract, Dr. Lord was prohibited from working in the area for two years if she left the UW system. According to the report, Dr. Lord paid the system $50,000 to lift the non-compete. "I did pay it, because can you imagine not working for two years?" Dr. Lord told the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Opponents of these non-compete stipulations argue the issue is particularly urgent as more and more physicians move from independent practices to hospitals in an effort to better handle the administrative costs associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Earlier this year, physicians gathered to present testimony before lawmakers in Olympia in support of House Bill 1173, which would have lessened the severity of non-compete clauses. One physician delivered testimony that she faced a $427,150 fine if she left the system, while another said a colleague would have had to pay $100,000. However, the bill died in the healthcare and wellness committee.

"The non-competition policy does not impose fines," a UW spokeswoman said in an email, according to the report. "If a physician seeks to engage in a restricted practice after leaving, in some cases, the individual may negotiate for a release of the restrictions, often including a financial payment designed to reimburse UW Medicine for expenses of recruitment, building and supporting the individual's practice and the loss of patients who follow the physician."

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