President Bush calls on Congress to pass tort reform

By Ann Knef | Jan 5, 2005

As expected, U.S. President George W. Bush used Madison County's Gateway Convention Center as a bully pulpit Jan. 5, calling on Congress to take action on tort reform this year.

"The United States Congress needs to pass real medical liability reform this year," President Bush said.

Standing before a backdrop of 100 lab-coated medical professionals, the president said he wanted Congress to adopt caps on non-economic damages, and reforms for class action filings, asbestos litigation and joint and several liability.

"The system is out of control," the president said repeatedly. "The system needs to be fixed."

On the president's first trip of the new year--and a first to Collinsville by a sitting U.S. president--he was quick to point out his purpose for being in southern Illinois.

"I think people in this part of the world understand," Bush said. "No one is healed by a frivolous lawsuit. The cause of justice is not served by frivolous lawsuits.

"Voters made their position very clear on election day."

The president pointed to the meteoric rise in the number of class action lawsuits filed in Madison County.

"The number of class actions rose 5000% from 1998 to 2003 even though the vast majority of defendants were not actually from Madison County," he said. "The proper place for massive class actions is not in local court but in federal court."

Before the president spoke he met privately with some physicians and other medical professionals to hear first-hand accounts of the area's medical liability crisis. He repeated stories of doctors either leaving the region or scaling back medical care because of the high costs of liability insurance.

"Some costs are not necessary," the president said. "Many of the costs that we're talking about don't start in an examining room or an operating room. They start in a courtroom.

"What's happening all across this country is that lawyers are filing baseless suits against hospitals and doctors. That's just a plain fact, and they're doing it for a simple reason.

"They know the medical liability system is tilted in their favor. Jury awards in medical liability cases have skyrocketed in recent years."

The president said "junk" lawsuits drive up the costs of medical liability insurance, even for doctors who don't get sued.

"A recent study ranked Madison County the number one place in the country for trial lawyers to sue, and that's a ranking I'm sure you'd like to get rid of.

"Those of you traveling in from St. Clair County aren't doing much better. St. Clair is ranked the second county in America where you're likely to get sued."

Bush pondered why plaintiff's lawyers are drawn to Madison County. Referencing the city's renown as the world's largest horseradish producer, the president said, "I'm pretty sure it's not because they're looking for horseradish."

The friendly crowd of approximately 1,500 was also pleased at references to Collinsville's world famous catsup bottle.

"I'm sorry Laura is not with me," the president said. "I was hoping she and I could go look at the Ketchup bottle."

He also offered Collinsville's mayor Stan Schaefer some friendly advice.

"I usually like to give mayors unsolicited advice, fill the potholes," he said. "You've probably got some advice for me, pass the highway bill."

Comments from those attending include:

  • Carol Kugler, former Independent Illinois state representative candidate in the 112th District: I thought it was a very good speech. But I wish he would have mentioned that many of the insurance companies that cover doctors have left. There are only three that provide insurance now. There used to be 15.

  • State Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville: (The president's visit) can't do anything but help. I have voted for caps. I have been influential with my (Democratic) colleagues and will continue to be.

  • (Democrat) Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan: First off, it's good to have the President of the United States here regardless of party.

  • Sandra Riley, R.N., director of Medical Surgery at Anderson Hospital, Maryville: The president was right on target. He demonstrated that he was aware of the issues about Madison County and he has concrete ideas. Patients have to choose differently now. (Having lost surgeons) They may have wanted to come to our hospital but can't.

  • Kim Perry, R.N., director of Surgical Services at Anderson Hospital: We've lost surgeons and that affects my ability to keep our nurses busy. We haven't had to layoff anyone but overall in the county it could happen.

  • Glen Carbon resident Kyle Underwood: President Bush has just put Madison County on the map in ways others couldn’t have. I just hope that the lawyers paid attention and noted, this type of crap will not be allowed anymore.

  • Illinois Republican Party co-chairman Stephen McGlynn: I am very happy that President Bush made it to the area. He did a great job. He wants what I want--a fair system that works well and does not punish the healthcare providers. The president outlined a number a things that need to be done and had a number of good suggestions.

  • Edward Wolff, M.D. of Belleville: I think his speech was outstanding. It was unambiguous and fair and balanced. He is a trustworthy man so I think he will do what he says. He will push for the reform we need.

  • St. Clair County Republican Chairman Michael McGlynn: The President is a good man and did a fine job on his speech.

  • Swansea resident Karen Patterson: It was an honor to see President Bush today. My doctor left in September so this issue hits home with me. I hope both sides can come to the table and see that by postponing the problem will only make it worse, something needs to be done now.

  • Collinsville native Royce Penny: I wish he would have spoken more about asbestos reform. Madison County is a second home to people who live out of the state to file an asbestos suit. It’s rather disgusting.”

  • Belleville neurologist and president of the St. Clair County Medical Society, Stephen Burger, M.D.: Bush’s remarks were inspiring. His understanding of the problem is right on target. Legal liability has gotten out of hand and it has compromised the care, access, availability and affordability of health care. Things have got to stop, people are demanding it, physicians are demanding it, and the President has put everybody on notice that it has to stop. Caps are part of the solution, not the entire solution; no one ever has claimed they are the entire solution. State involvement is essential. It is not just a federal issue nor just a state issue. Medical care is intrastate, which by definition, makes it a federal issue.

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