Med mal deal reached; officials and 'the people' respond

The Madison County Record May 26, 2005, 1:06am

Sen. Frank Watson announces agreement

(Left to Right): State Rep. John Bradley (D-117), Dr. Craig A. Backs, President of the Illinois State Medical Society, State Sen. Deanna Demuzio (D-49), State Sen. Gary Forby (D-59), Ken Robbins, President of the Illinois Hospital Association, State Sen. William Haine (D-56), State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-118) and State Sen. James Clayborne (D-57) joined a bipartisan group of Illinois lawmakers who announced a compromise has been reached on medical malpractice reform

A monumental bipartisan medical malpractice insurance reform compromise was reached Wednesday evening in Springfield which would cap non-economic damages at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals.

Announcing the agreement in a press conference, State Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville), said the legislation that will be voted on also includes tightened requirements for medical experts and more stringent merit standards.

"Doctors will be allowed to apologize for adverse outcomes without having to fear that such an apology will be used against them in court," Watson said in a statement.

State Rep. Tom Holbrook (D-Belleville), who was one of the first Metro-East Democratic legislators to push for limits on "pain and suffering" damages, said he believes the deal is solid.

"I think this will be upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court because this bill focuses only on med-mal, unlike in 1995, which was overall tort reform," he said.

"Realistically, I would have liked to see the caps a little lower, however no one ever dreamed we would get this done.

"The caps take focus but there are other things in the bill that will hopefully encourage competition between insurance companies to help lower rates for doctors."

Jorge Lopez Covas of Fairmont City expressed relief that lawmakers agreed on a solution.

"Thank goodness, health care in this area is awful," Covas said. "I was at St. Elizabeth's in Belleville and saw a helicopter take a person who suffered a heart attack away because they could not handle the situation.

"That is pathetic. Our doctors are leaving because they are being squeezed for every dime they make. Remember, they practice medicine, practice is the key word, it is not a perfect science."

State Sen. James Clayborne (D-Belleville), a late-comer to medical malpractice reform said the compromise would require all sides to "give a little."

“This plan represents the next step in bringing a final resolution to this crisis that has not only plagued the Metro East, but the entire state,” Clayborne said in a statement.

Representatives from the Illinois Hospital Association, the Illinois State Medical Society and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle gathered Wednesday evening for a press conference to announce the agreement.

When medical malpractice reform failed to pass in the state legislature last year--despite intense pressure from southern Illinois factions--many municipalities passed their own resolutions supporting reform.

The city of O'Fallon was one of them.

"Well, it's a good start," said O'Fallon Mayor Gary Graham. "I would like to have seen the cap at $250,000. But we've come a long way, haven't we?"

St. Clair County Board member Steve Reeb, who lost his bid for county chairman to Democrat Mark Kern in November, has been a staunch med mal reform supporter. He drafted a resolution calling for the state legislature to adopt caps, which was later approved by the county board.

"I think it's great," Reeb said. "When it's signed, sealed and delivered, then I'll believe it.

"We want our doctors back."

Reeb also said it is "doubly important" the Illinois legislature adopt caps since neighbor Missouri has enacted medical malpractice insurance reform.

A Belleville man also expressed optimism.

"I think it's a good thing, it is what they should do, and hopefully
doctors can get lower rates and stay in this state," said Jason Maher.

The amendment is expected to be added Senate Bill 475 in the Illinois House and then move to the state Senate.

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