Med mal stakeholders testify against new version of bill

Ann Knef Apr. 14, 2005, 9:55am

The Illinois Senate Executive Committee heard testimony from doctors, hospitals, lawyers and insurers Wednesday on medical malpractice reform, but indefinitely delayed a vote on a bill that most stakeholders do not like.

Hospitals and physicians claim the bill was watered-down after its exile from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Illinois Trial Lawyers Association president-elect Keith Hebeisen said the bill only protects insurance companies.

The Illinois State Medical Society objected to the bill because it did not include caps on damages non-economic damages.

Harry Maier, Belleville Memorial Hospital president, said the reform proposal, as amended, did not solve the crisis for doctors and hospitals. He urged committee members to vote against the bill.

The following is an excerpt of Maier's testimony.

"The "bottom line" or litmus test that you should apply to this legislation is very simple--does it meaningfully resolve, and not merely superficially or cosmetically address for political purposes, the underlying causes of the devastating malpractice crisis which is steadily dismantling the healthcare system in Southwestern Illinois and other key areas in Illinois?

"Will it encourage malpractice insurance carriers to return to the Illinois market and offer physicians affordable malpractice insurance coverage? If passed in its present form without proven fundamental reforms enacted by at least 25 other states, will it enable Illinois State Medical Insurance Exchange to commit to substantially reducing its current premium rates to levels, which are economically sustainable by physicians?

"In its present form, Amendment Number 1 does little to address and resolve the current malpractice crisis. First and foremost, it fails to include reasonable caps on non-economic damages which, as already proven in at least 25 other states, will help reduce unnecessary and unjustified settlements in our less-than-impartial local courts.

"And, as importantly, such caps will bring the predictability absolutely essential to convince liability insurance carriers to return to Illinois and to re-introduce competition among carriers to help lower insurance premiums.

"It is absolutely astonishing to me--and I would hope somewhat embarrassing to the State of Illinois and its Legislature--that my institution has been forced to divert substantial patient care financial resources to establishing a captive insurance company to retain 32 key physicians in our community to avoid them joining the 180 plus physicians who have left our two counties during the last 2 1/2 years.

"However, one positive of my new unwanted role as the CEO of an insurance company in what has been frequently described as the "number two judicial hellhole in the United States" has been the education I have received in how insurance companies make decisions. Without reasonable caps on non-economic damages, no insurance companies will return to Illinois and risk the huge and disproportionate "lottery type" awards of non-economic damages in medical liability cases.

"Until the Governor and Illinois Legislature gets serious about making the unpredictable and inefficient liability system in Illinois predictable, no insurance company will return to Illinois-- nor will the one remaining insurer in Southwest Illinois be in a position to reduce today's high malpractice rates for physicians.

"Quite frankly, physicians will leave Illinois before they will trust frequently less-than-impartial local courts to determine whether an injury was caused by a physician's willful or wanton misconduct.

"While there are some useful provisions in Amendment 1, they do not represent the fundamental reforms necessary to resolve the medical malpractice crisis. They are analogous to using diluted drugs to treat critically-ill patients. It is time for the Illinois Senate to get serious about enacting these fundamental reforms-- and to do so before the healthcare system in the Madison and St. Clair counties--the consensus Ground Zero in Illinois for the medical malpractice crisis--melts down and the exodus of physicians accelerates the healthcare system into nuclear winter.

"That is in no way an overstatement or exaggeration. As hospitals and physicians in these two counties have previously testified to the Legislature, the 180 physicians who have already left our two counties will pale in significance to the physicians. who will leave without meaningful malpractice reform. When recently-passed comprehensive malpractice reforms In Missouri become effective, Missouri's malpractice insurance rates--already lower than those in Illinois--will further drop.

"Our doctors will be then able to easily commute to abundant practice opportunities in the St. Louis area without having to uproot their families, have their children change schools, sell their homes, or relocate. And, because the only real remaining malpractice carrier in our area will continue to ration offering coverage for new physicians, my institution and others in our two counties will continue to be unable to recruit replacement physicians.

Last November, voters in Southwestern Illinois sent a clear and unmistakable message to our elected officials via the Illinois Supreme Court election--they demand and will accept nothing less than meaningful and effective medical malpractice reforms to stop the hemorrhaging of physicians from our area and the elimination of their access to critical healthcare services for their families and themselves.

"Rest assured that several hundred thousand residents--and voters--in Southwestern Illinois are carefully watching the Illinois Senate to determine whether this legislative body will do what is right and enact essential reforms or wait until the healthcare system in Southwestern Illinois has been so irreparably damaged that they and their families will be relegated to Third World quality health care."

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