Malpractice story is about insurance companies - not lawyers v. docs

Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr. Feb. 28, 2010, 8:00am

Most folks agree that there are two sides to every story. It seems that only one side of the "malpractice story" has been told. There is another side; and while I freely admit that I am an advocate for this side of the story because it benefits me and my clients, it is still a side worth considering.

The malpractice story is NOT about doctors v. lawyers; it is about insurance companies.

Everybody hates lawyers (until they need one). I've been practicing for over 30 years -- I get that. As long as insurance companies, through their lobbyists such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Civil Justice League can make this story about "lawyers," then many people will immediately conclude it is the lawyer's fault.

Doctors (and patients) are the victims of insurance companies -- corporations which exist to make profits. There's nothing wrong with making profits, but there is something wrong with making exorbitant profits at the expense of patients and physicians.

Ask your doctor whether he feels like he is adequately reimbursed by your health insurance company. The reality is that he is not. Ask your doctor how much she must pay office staff to process insurance claims so that she can be reimbursed 50 percent of the value of her services, and then compare those percentages to the percentage of profits "earned" by the insurance industry.

And Doctor, ask your own malpractice insurance company -- Illinois State Medical Insurance Exchange -- (ISMIE) -- how much profit they "earned" during the "malpractice crisis" between 2006 and 2008. Nearly $125 million dollars -- $124.2 millions to be precise.

We know all that because the legislature passed a law which required ISMIE to open their books, and when they did, other insurance companies realized there were "profits" to be made in Illinois.

The result? Competition in the market place, and competition lowers insurance premiums, just like competition lowers prices in all market places.

And please Doctor, ask ISMIE if they really thought when they were setting your premiums that the caps wouldn't be declared unconstitutional. I assure you the actuaries at every insurance company writing coverage in the State of Illinois predicted this result.

The only way any doctor will experience an increase in malpractice premiums is if the insurance companies are permitted to return to their time-honored practice of putting their profits ahead of doctors and patients.

Please don't believe me; just ask the Illinois Department of Insurance which has called on these companies to continue to comply with the "insurance reforms" which have actually lowered premiums by 10 percent.

The answer to the malpractice problem is to recognize it is an insurance problem which was solved by insurance reform, and which will remain solved by re-enacting laws which hold insurance companies accountable to the doctors and their patients, the same kind of laws which could have held AIG accountable last year, and saved American taxpayers billions and billions of dollars.

I hope no one has to experience what my clients have experienced during the past 30 years: a brain damaged baby; a dead mother or child; a blind father. Medical negligence does occur -- perhaps not often, but when it does should we as a society bear that burden? The insurance companies think so because for every dollar we pay, it is another dollar of profit for them.

Every citizen of this State, including doctors and patients, is entitled to equal protection under the law; and no one, including insurance companies, is above the law.

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