U.S. President George W. Bush addresses an Illinois State Medical Society gathering June 11, 2003, in Chicago. (Photo by Shawn J. O�Malley)

A rare presidential visit to southern Illinois will take place in the epicenter of the nation's tort reform debate Jan. 5, when U.S. President George W. Bush is scheduled to appear at Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville to discuss medical liability reform.

But, a White House spokesman would not confirm whether the president would be in Madison County--labeled the nation's No. 1 "Judicial Hellhole" by the American Tort Reform Association--until his schedule is released Jan. 3.

Other likely participants in the visit chose not to comment, including the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS), which reportedly arranged the engagement.

The president's visit to Illinois would be his second in which medical liability reform is at center. President Bush was in Chicago June 11, 2003, at ISMS invitation, outlining reforms to a cheering audience of member physicians and like-minded state and federal legislators.

Kenneth J. Printen, M.D., ISMS president, who also would not confirm the Jan. 5 Collinsville trip, said the medical society was honored to host the president when he highlighted medical liabiity and Medicare reform.

"That presidential visit was enormously important in bringing continuing attention to the hostile litigation climate in this state and its impact on doctors and patients," Printen said in a written statement.

"These effects include reduced patient access to medical care as doctors are forced to flee the state and restrict procedures; higher medical liability insurance costs borne by doctors, other medical care providers, and ultimately patients; and an ever-growing share of taxpayer dollars to support a civil court system laden with frivolous lawsuits."

Steve Tomaszewski, an aide to Congressman John Shimkus, said, in his estimation, that there has never been a policy-related presidential visit in southern Illinois.

A White House spokesman said records on President Bush's policy-related visits to Illinois are not kept. "You would have to go through his daily log to determine that," he said.

In mid-December the subject of tort reform played a substantive role in a two-day economic conference held at the White House, during which Madison County, Ill. also achieved recognition as a "speed trap" for American civil litigation.

Bush, addressing a panel comprised of select business leaders from across the country, said that litigation costs make it harder for U.S. interests to compete internationally.

"The cost of litigation in America makes it more difficult for us to compete with nations in Europe," the president said.

According to an invitation sent to members of the Illinois State Medical Society, President Bush "is coming to southern Illinois to deliver remarks on one of his top domestic policy priorities: the urgent need for medical liability reform."

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