More doctors or more lawyers?

The Madison County Record Nov. 18, 2007, 3:12am

In the end, it's not about our civil rights or access to our courts. Illinois' running debate over the size of "pain and suffering" awards in medical malpractice lawsuits is about priorities.

And the priorities of Cook County Judge Diane Joan Larsen-- she formerly worked as a lawyer to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley-- ring predictable. Chicago Democratic Machine-backed judges spend their lunch hours rubbing elbows with and craving professional affirmation from personal injury lawyers, not neurosurgeons or obstetricians.

So it goes. And last week, Judge Larsen sought to negate the overwhelming will of Illinoisans, substituting her own judgment for ours by declaring the two-year-old law capping damages in lawsuits against doctors and hospitals unconstitutional and thus, null and void.

Her stance: the people have no right to place any limits of any kind on damages reaped from civil lawsuits in Illinois. So please, please stop trying.

In her written opinion, Larsen nonchalantly quipped that judges like herself "should not and need not balance the advantages and disadvantages of reform." It's a good thing for her argument's sake that she didn't try, because in Illinois, caps are working precisely as their proponents predicted they would.

In August, the Chicago Tribune reported that the number of companies willing to insure Illinois doctors had already more than doubled in the two years since the law was enacted. More competition equals lower malpractice insurance rates which equals fewer doctors giving up their practices or moving to Wisconsin, which was the point.

"The reforms make a significant market difference," explained an insurance executive.

In Texas, where similar medical malpractice reform is four years old and has had more time to work, the results have been plain startling.

Doctors are flooding into the state so quickly that there's now a six-month paperwork-driven backlog to get a medical license to practice. Residents of long-underserved rural communities, who once had to drive hours to find a medical specialist, have proven the biggest beneficiaries.

Making life easier for doctors means there will be more of them in more places. And making life easier for lawyers-- Illinois already has some 84,000-- will foster more ambitious lawsuits.

We know Illinois' priority.

The state Supreme Court will decide whether we're allowed to have one soon enough.

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