Reaction flows in med mal epicenter

The Madison County Record May 26, 2005, 1:08pm

Gary Graham

Steve Reeb

A bipartisan medical malpractice insurance reform compromise reached by state lawmakers inspired mixed reaction in the Metro-East--epicenter of the volcanic issue.

When medical malpractice reform failed to pass in the Democrat-controlled 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?"

Metro-East surgeon Morris Kugler, M.D., founder of SMASH--Statewide Medical Alliance for the Survival of Healthcare--said he has mixed emotions about the reform measure.

"I don't really like the $500,000 (cap)," he said. "It kind of sticks in my craw. And there is nothing on asset protection."

But, Kugler, who has rallied medical professionals from across the state for reform, said he trusts the opinion of his former high school basketball teammate, State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville).

"He said it was the best deal we could get and didn't think this ever would have happened," Kugler said.

"Some have said this is as big as the Karmeier victory, it just doesn't feel like it."

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. Last year he drafted a county resolution calling for the state legislature to adopt caps, which was later approved by the 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" that Illinois legislature adopt caps since neighbor Missouri has enacted medical malpractice insurance reform.

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."

Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, said the compromise is a step in the right direction.

"This legislation would not be moving in a favorable direction without the overwhelming dedication and commitment of doctors in the Metro East, as well as throughout Illinois," Murnane said.

"Doctors and hospitals helped motivate patients and patients let their legislators hear loudly and clearly that it's time for a real solution to the medical liability crisis -- or else," he added. "That 'or else' was a signal that the voter unrest that was demonstrated in the 2004 Supreme Court race could just as easily be focused on 2006 legislative elections.

"The doctors and hospitals don't like all of the insurance reform aspects but they'll live with them because they are first and foremost concerned with providing excellent health care to patients."

Fairmont City resident Jorge Lopez Covas 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.

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