Thursday, August 7, 2008

Illinois Governor explains why he signed Medical Malpractice Reform Law

In the large shadow of the bureaucracy that is the mega-agency Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) and given the fact that at least one surgeon traveled from North Carolina to Illinois without having his disciplinary record follow along, one might reasonably ask:

Is the state of Illinois committed to protecting patients from "bad doctors"? Or, is the state of Illinois' General Assembly and politicians more committed to protecting the wealth of money associated with the medical lobbying organizations?

Are patient plaintiffs and the personal injury attorneys really out of control? Probably not. There have long been safeguards in place to protect the potential defendant doctors from crazy, greedy patient plaintiffs.

The Illinois Code of Civil Procedure provides for safeguards against the filing frivolous lawsuits. That is especially true with respect to medical malpractice claims. The medical malpractice plaintiff cannot even get off the starting block unless he or she has a certificate from a physician stating that the defendant physician deviated from the standard of care.

It is just plain insulting to suggest that patient plaintiffs are looking for some "lottery hit" when they file a medical malpractice claim. More than insulting, the suggestion is without merit.

So, why did Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) sign the medical malpractice reform act into law in 2005? What or who really motivated that law? The Governor explains his rationale in a June 13, 2006, press release:

“I signed the medical malpractice reform law to keep doctors in our state and make health care more accessible and more affordable. Just one year later, we are seeing dramatic results. New competition in the malpractice insurance market is resulting in lower premium rates, and it’s making Illinois a state where doctors want to practice,” said Governor Blagojevich.

Blagojevich made the announcement on June 13, 2006, of major reduction in medical malpractice insurance rates in Illinois. Medical Protective, a Berkshire Hathaway company, reduced rates by 32% and dramatically increased the number of Med Mal policies it writes in Illinois. Blagojevich was proud to announce that insurance reforms had already resulted in more competitive rates and will help more doctors do business in Illinois.

Physicians and surgeons are not machines. They are not neatly and uniformly manufactured according to specs at a factory. Each physician and surgeon comes to the patient with his or her own limitations and human frailties. In that regard, Illinois residents deserve more than simply a large quantity of doctors. Quality is much more important than quantity as it relates to medical care providers.

Moreover, the non-economic damages cap issue has yet to be resolved in Illinois. Currently the constitutionality of NED caps is before the Illinois Supreme Court. But, according to the Governor, Illinois doctors now enjoy the benefits of competitive medical malpractice premiums. And, since ISMIE no longer has a monopoly and other insurance companies have entered the market without the Illinois ever imposing of NED caps, the doctors' med mal premiums have decreased. Then there should no longer be a reason for the NED caps.

But, what ever happened to the issue of physician discipline and the creation of the Medical Discipline Board? That provision was supposed to be a part of the law also. If we take the press release at face value, we accept that the Governor considers the law a success because medical malpractice insurance premiums have decreased for the doctors. That conclusion together with the fact that the provision in the law establishing the Medical Disciplinary Board has its own deadline makes it clear that the General Assembly never truly intended to establish the Disciplinary Board. The pretense seems to be a bone thrown to supporters of patient safety.

Ahhhh . . . priorities . . .

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