HB705: Caps are key to reform

State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Greenville) Feb. 13, 2005, 2:19pm

State Rep. Ron Stephens

In his state of the state address, Governor Rod Blagojevich briefly mentioned the urgent need for medical liability reform. Unfortunately, he didn’t propose the most critical component to reform: caps on non-economic damages.

Governor Blagojevich and the Chicago Democrat leadership continue to oppose reform measures such as caps on non-economic damage awards. They have aligned themselves with the rich and powerful personal injury lawyers who fund their campaigns. Trial lawyers claim that limiting “pain and suffering” awards isn’t the answer to solving the medical liability crisis. They claim that caps jeopardize our legal system and are blatantly unconstitutional. Trial lawyers point fingers at insurance companies and doctors, refusing to place any of the blame on themselves.

Caps have proven to be effective in other states. An Illinois obstetrician can save $75,000 to $100,000 a year on medical liability insurance costs by moving to Wisconsin, Indiana or Missouri. It’s no coincidence that these states have placed caps on non-economic damages. Overall, liability insurance premiums in Illinois are 100 to 300 percent higher than in those states. And states with caps average 12 percent more physicians per capita than states without caps.

Last month, the Illinois House of Representatives introduced bipartisan legislation to address the cost of rising medical liability insurance premiums that are forcing so many doctors to leave Illinois. The legislation, HB 705, is a combination of litigation reform, insurance regulation and enhanced medical discipline. It contains sensible reforms and was crafted to withstand constitutional challenges. HB 705 includes the following legislative initiatives:

  • Establish a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages for physicians and a $500,000 cap for hospitals

  • Protect physician’s personal assets

  • Strengthen the affidavit of merit

  • Increase the qualifications of expert witnesses

  • Allow physicians to apologize for bad outcomes

  • Enact extensive data reporting requirements for liability insurers

  • Increase penalties on insurance companies and medical professionals

  • Enhance the regulatory scope of the Department of Insurance and Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

    HB 705 is a bipartisan initiative which has garnered support from three metro-east Democrat lawmakers. But Governor Rod Blagojevich, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones are certain to hold up this vital piece of legislation because it contains a four letter word most feared by trial lawyers – CAPS.

    The trial lawyer lobby refuses to support any piece of legislation that includes caps. The only question remaining is – How many doctors will leave Illinois before our state leaders take action?

    Ron Stephens is a state representative in the 102nd Illinois House District and an Assistant Republican Leader.

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