Ask doctors if liability is a problem

The Madison County Record Feb. 15, 2009, 8:00am

To the Editor:

Among the many misconceptions delivered in his Feb. 8 letter, Mr. Corboy suggests doctors weren't leaving Illinois before medical liability reform was enacted. He picked the wrong place to advance this argument.

The medical liability crisis inflicted some of its harshest wounds on Madison and St. Clair counties. From 2003 to 2005 (when liability reform became law) more than 160 doctors were identified as leaving this region because of the medical liability crisis.

In an area without that many doctors to begin with, the loss was nearly crippling. Deceptively citing American Medical Association statistics to suggest there are actually more doctors here and not fewer, hides the truth. Here is what the Record's readers need to know about this source of information. The AMA data is essentially a "head count" drawn from the number of medical licenses. It bears no relationship to availability of medical care or the number of doctors actually practicing in the Metro East.

It includes thousands of physicians who don't see patients, and who keep an active medical license despite working in research or administration, living out-of state, or being fully retired.

Mr. Corboy also mounts a predictable attack on insurance companies – specifically ISMIE Mutual – for its "propaganda" about the crisis. But let's look at the facts.

ISMIE is wholly owned and run by the practicing physicians it insures. Why then does it charge higher premiums to Illinois doctors than to those practicing medicine in bordering states? The simple answer is the starkly different (and worse) medical liability environment here.

Illinois' costly premiums for doctors reflect reality – a medical liability climate run amok.

Don't just take our word that the liability crisis is real. Ask any doctor, and he or she can likely name a colleague who dropped high-risk specialty procedures, retired early or left Illinois due to liability concerns.

According to a 2005 study by the Illinois Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 22 percent of obstetricians had stopped delivering babies in Illinois.

Look to our neighbor's experience. St. Louis University Hospital experienced a doubling of Illinois trauma care patients between 2002-2004 (from 471 per year to 946). This spike was a direct outgrowth of the breakdown in our trauma network and the lack of available Illinois physicians to provide specialty medical care.

Illinois needs its medical liability reform law. The reforms were fair, comprehensive and balanced. Most importantly, they are making a real difference in the availability of medical care here.

Shastri Swaminathan, M.D.
President, Illinois State Medical Society

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