One-sided coverage

The Madison County Record Jan. 9, 2005, 9:13am

To the editor:

In reporting the Dec. 30, 2004 story, “President to Revisit Illinois: Madison County Site of Medical Liability Reform Address,” why did you present a one-sided angle of the President’s visit?

You focused on a lengthy quote from Kenneth J. Printen, M.D., president of the Illinois State Medical Society, regarding the president’s visit. Did you know that Printen is on the board of directors of the ISMIE Mutual Insurance Company? ( ).

This is a company that, according to its 2003 annual report, has more than $1.6 billion in assets and has net premiums written in 2003 in excess of $304 million, that’s up $56 million from 2002 ( ). Is Printen representing doctors’ interests or the profit-hungry insurance carriers who keep raising doctor’s rates?

Perhaps the insurance carriers are imposing frivolous rate hikes. If Printen’s billion-dollar company were in California, the 35.2% rate increase that was imposed on Printen’s doctors last year (page 6 of their 2003 annual report), would have been subject to regulatory scrutiny and rejected if it were found to be unjustified. Under the laws in California, doctors saved nearly $40 million last year when illegal med mal premium hikes were struck down by the Department of Insurance—I should know, since I was the attorney who petitioned for the proceedings.

The assumption is that shady attorneys are taking highly expensive, highly risky gambles by filing dubious claims, hoping that a) sophisticated, billion-dollar insurance carriers will roll over and eventually pay them;

b) trained doctors will come in and testify for these lawyers and against their own peers, lying about the claims’ merits;

c) highly skilled and well-paid corporate lawyers from the finest law schools will be at a loss as to how to defend the claims;

d) experienced judges will ignore the law and allow the claims to go forward; and

e) jurors will come in, leaving their common sense at the courthouse entrance, be swept away with emotion, completely ignoring the facts, and award millions of dollars.

Does this make sense to you?

Perhaps the frivolous claims that are being made are by President Bush and his friends in corporate America.

I suggest you do a story on the frivolous defenses made by insurance carriers on behalf of bad doctors. These are doctors who went to unaccredited, foreign medical schools and then come here and destroy people’s lives, and who, despite repeated instances of malpractice, continue to retain their licenses. Or doctors who, with little more specialized training than a weekend seminar at a tropical resort, perform and botch face lifts.

The irony here is that good doctors and good lawyers all want the same thing: to protect people from bad doctors and to make bad doctors take full responsibility for their actions.

Furthermore, both good doctors and good lawyers want to prevent bad lawyers from making merit-less claims. But how does a cap on damages prevent a bad attorney from filing a frivolous claim?

What if auto insurance carriers said that in order to reduce auto insurance premiums, everyone should be limited in how much they can recover from car accidents, even when someone is killed by a drunk driver or when someone is driving 100 miles per hour in a school zone? Would that sound fair? Why should we all suffer so the insurance companies can make more money? That is exactly what is happening now to victims of medical negligence when caps are imposed.

Anyone who thinks that arbitrary damage caps will reduce doctors’ premiums should take a long, hard look at California, where 10 years after the caps passed, rates still went up 400%. It was only when we started regulating insurance companies in 1988 (under Prop 103) that rates started coming under control, and, even now, they must still be monitored.

As someone who regularly has to explain to families in California who have been destroyed by careless, preventable medical mistakes why the life of their child or wife or parent is worth no more than $250,000, I thought I might share my two cents.

Daniel Y. Zohar
Los Angeles, Calif.

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