From Saturday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Malpractice debate again puts Metro East under microscope," by Kevin McDermott. The article contained these unsubstantiated claims, among others:
Medical groups and their Republican allies claim an epidemic of frivolous suits against doctors, especially in the Metro East, has driven up malpractice insurance premiums. They claim the resulting exodus of doctors to other states has led to a crisis of scarce medical care in various parts of the state.
"The dirty little secret of Illinois is that the Madison County legal system has helped to create this crisis, and I think one of these days we're going to have to take that on," a visibly angry Rep. Julie Hamos, D-Evanston - an opponent of caps on litigation awards - said Friday in committee debate.
Like every newspaper article this past year, there is nothing to back up these claims--or others made in the article--about medical malpractice cases in Madison County, Illinois. The only real data about Madison County appeared only once, in a December article from the Belleville News-Democrat: "Report details malpractice suits," by Brian Brueggemann. According to that article, which was based on a report by the court clerk, there have been only eleven malpractice verdicts in Madison County since 1996. Doctors won seven. In the four cases won by plaintiffs, the amounts of the verdicts were $1.78 million, $470,000, $75,000 and $25,000.
These verdicts are nothing unusual for any area of the country, and are certainly not the cause of the "malpractice insurance crisis" in Madison County. In the period in which there were eleven verdicts, there were 269 cases filed, but there has never been any data presented about how these cases turned out (except that only eleven proceeded to trial). Who has the information? The insurance companies. One of them--Illinois Medical Insurance Inter-Exchange Mutual, or ISMIE--insures the majority of Illinois doctors.
But ISMIE's not talking. In the Post-Dispatch article, one skeptic said he thinks the "crisis" is trumped up:
Terrence J. Lavin, president of the Illinois State Bar Association, told the committee not to pay attention to media stories warning that Metro East-area doctors were moving to Missouri. He said he'd recently traveled to Missouri and saw media coverage there claiming that Missouri doctors were moving to Kansas to escape high insurance premiums.
"Every state where this goes, they say they're moving to the next state. ... They're scaring pregnant women to get this legislation passed," Lavin said. "... Forget the (information) they're selling on the front page of the Post-Dispatch or the editorial page of the (Chicago) Tribune. ... The 'crisis' is, too many doctors are injuring and killing too many patients without getting disciplined."
Lavin might be right. Around here, the doctors say "greedy lawyers" are causing them to leave Illinois and move to Missouri, but consider this headline, dated 5/2/03: "Malpractice 'crisis' drives docs from Missouri." No, the problem isn't the lawyers and judges of Madison County, Illinois. The problem is insurance companies and the doctors' failure to take them on. Don't believe me? If the Madison County legal system was to blame, then why are doctors and their press agents also claiming a "crisis" has occurred in Georgia, Florida, Nevada, New York, and Arizona?
I could make the list much longer, but I'll spare you the details. Everywhere you look, doctors who want more money (and who doesn't?) are blaming lawyers for their troubles. The doctors are right to think that lawyers are easy targets. But in targeting lawyers, doctors are being dishonest--and that's why they're no closer to solving their problems.
1. Doctors Battling Lawyers Open New Front Against Insurer (3/28/04)
2. Who's To Blame For The Malpractice Insurance Crisis? (3/25/04)
3. Did Crooked Executives Cause the Malpractice Insurance Crisis? (3/1/04)
4. Radical Doctor Proposes: Let's Heal Ourselves (2/13/04)
5. How to Make a Doctor Cry (1/14/04)