COMMENTARY; Regulate insurance to fight malpractice ‘crisis’

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Chicago Tribune

Chicago — In “Mr. Bush goes to Collinsville” (Editorial, Jan. 5), the Tribune lauds President Bush‘s visit to Madison County, claiming it will “shine a light on the need to cap non-economic damages in malpractice suits.”

Interestingly enough the visit shines a light on something else entirely: the lie behind the tort “deform” movement.

The Tribune cites the “ranking” of Madison County as a “judicial hellhole” by the American Tort Reform Foundation. Actually it is the American Tort Reform Association that puts out this ranking.

And what is ATRA?

It is organized money–manufacturers, insurance companies and others who stand to gain billions in additional profits if their hundreds of millions in contributions to Republicans buy what they want.

And how did organized money come up with its ranking of Madison County?

Apparently it made it up, because there is no evidence to back it up.

For instance, according to the Verdict Reporter of St. Louis, doctors and hospitals win the majority of medical negligence suits in Madison County.

Of the 364 malpractice suits filed since 1996 (yes, an astounding 40 per year), only eight resulted in a verdict against a hospital or doctor–less than one per year.

The average amount of the damages was $380,000.

Sounds more like a hellhole for injured patients.

The Tribune also claims that no one has explained why there is no malpractice “crisis” in states that have placed caps on the damages doctors have to pay, citing California’s experience. Let us shine a little light on California. In 1975, California’s legislature enacted a cap on damages. According to the non-partisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, malpractice premiums rose 450 percent after the cap was imposed. Rates did not fall until California began regulating rate increases in 1988.

Why is there no crisis in California? Because state regulators won’t let the insurance industry create one. Every single time an insurance company executive has been placed under oath, he or she has admitted that damage caps will produce little or no rate savings.

Back to Illinois and the “crisis” in Madison County. According to consumer groups, Illinois has the most lax insurance regulations in the entire country. Insurance companies are free to gouge doctors, blame it on grievously injured patients and keep their books closed to avoid those pesky facts that contradict them.

The insurance industry pushing for tort reform? Kind of like the Big Bad Wolf trying to prohibit little pigs from living in brick houses.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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