Rep. Hoffman makes good

The Madison County Record Apr. 10, 2006, 3:12am

Hooray! Our state's largest insurer of doctors announced last week that it's cutting premiums 5.2% this July.

The cause is fewer claims against doctors and a momentarily bleaker future for Illinois' lawsuit industry, thanks to the medical malpractice reform bill forced down Governor Blagojevich's throat last fall. Ours will still pay two or three times as much as their Missouri medical counterparts, but that's no reason not to recognize progress. This announcement is great news for the health and pocketbooks of those of us living in the Metro-East.

Call them baby steps on the long road back to normalcy.

Dr. Harold Jensen, the chairman of ISMIE Mutual, the only company currently insuring doctors for malpractice in Illinois, says the premium cuts should be deeper still. Competition from other insurance companies hasn't yet arrived, Jensen says, because the jury is still out as to whether "reform" will stick.

That's for good reason.

Our very own Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville), trial lawyer extraordinaire, is already trying to gut reform with a measure that would let plaintffs recover more money in damages than they are actually owed when they sue doctors and hospitals. He snuck the concept into a bill that originally dealt with adults with disabilities and the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, presumably as payback to the powerful Illinois trial lawyers for the medical malpractice reform measure they so hated.

He voted yes, but you didn't believe a Lakin Law Firm partner like Rep. Hoffman was really ready for reform, did you?

We predicted this turnaround last fall when Blagojevich and Hoffman, the governor's closest ally in Springfield, finally capitulated to the polls and sided with doctors and patients over their personal injury pals. The move succeeded in taking a potent election-year issue off the table. But even so, it was impossible to imagine such ambitious public officials sticking their thumbs in the trial bar's eye without a promise of future compensation.

So now we arrive.

Dubbed the "plaintiff's windfall" bill, Senate Bill 1911 would allow a plaintiff to sue for the amount billed by a doctor or hospital, rather than the negotiated rate they actually paid. Hoffman thinks the plaintiff should get to keep the difference, with one-third of the that going to the lawyers, of course.

That this money won't appear out of thin air explains why doctors, hospitals, and insurers are up in arms about the prospect. Small businesses are worried about the fact that if Hoffman is successful, Illinois will become the only state in the U.S. where this practice is permitted.

Talk about rolling out the red carpet to venue shopping. Don't we already have enough theatrical legal attractions?

Baby steps forward, giant leaps back.

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