Health Care Crisis Deeper Than Doctor Exodus

David Knowles Sep. 23, 2004, 8:14am

It’s a simple fact: Lawsuit abuse is making us sick. Recent news stories on health care and the medical malpractice crisis illustrate this even more clearly.

Today, we have the same laws in place as we had two years ago when this crisis really started picking up steam. Doctors continue to leave, and no imminent reform gives others considering whether to stay or to go little reason to stay.

As we approach 200 doctors in our region being lost to this crisis, the personal injury lawyers continue to prevail in Springfield over those thousands of patients and doctors desperate for relief. The fact that the vast majority of lawsuits filed against physicians end up being dismissed shows not that the system is working. It shows that the system as it stands is being abused. And that lawsuit abuse is literally making us sick.

We read frightening news stories about people like Irene Vaughn, of Zeigler, at risk of not getting critical treatment, because they have to travel a half-hour or more to get necessary care – over an hour in some parts of Southern Illinois. We see pregnant women, like many in Chester, burdened with the added stress of finding a new doctor in the middle of their pregnancy. We’ve even seen lives lost, because the specialist either couldn’t be found in time, or the critical patient just couldn’t get there in time. That’s unacceptable. How sick do we have to get before our leaders act?

However, the problem goes much deeper than the doctor exodus. Drug and equipment manufacturers now have to consider cutting back on their research and development efforts, because their reward for the next breakthrough heart valve or stent may just be a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit.

Medical equipment manufacturers cannot just make equipment to help save or improve lives. According to one study, 75% of suppliers of biomaterials used to make medical implants have banned sales to U.S. manufacturers . The thought that break-through medicine or equipment could be gathering dust in a file folder somewhere because of the fear of lawsuits is downright sickening.

Even your own doctor - if you’re lucky enough to still have one - may have you undergo tests that cost you money and time, not because you absolutely need the tests but to protect your doctor from future malpractice lawsuits . It’s called defensive medicine. And we’re all paying for it.

As lawsuit abuse continues to make us sick, we’re still waiting for our “representatives” to represent us! The glimmer of hope is that we might not have to wait much longer. This election year, we have the chance to voice our frustration with those who have failed to end this crisis. Find out who supports civil justice reforms to help stem the tide of lawsuit abuse. Whose campaign is funded by personal injury lawyers? Hold accountable those who, despite the rhetoric, have, in the end, refused to act on our behalf.

The endless news stories have done a wonderful job detailing many aspects of this issue, and we’ve discussed here other ways lawsuit abuse costs us access to quality healthcare. Now that the doctors have been forced to be defensive, it’s time for all of us as citizens to go on the offensive. It’s time to ask your leaders the bottom-line question, “How sick do we have to get?!”

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