Illinois Medical Society president encourages doctors to advocate for medical liability reform law

By ROB STROUD, Staff Writer
http://www.jg-tc.com

CHARLESTON — Illinois doctors overcame a challenge regarding Medicare reimbursement this summer and will face a challenge regarding medical liability reform in the coming months.

The Illinois State Medical Society’s president, Dr. Shastri Swaminathan, offered this assessment Wednesday evening as he spoke to the medical society for Coles and Cumberland counties on Eastern Illinois University’s campus.

Swaminathan, a psychiatrist practicing in Chicago, said a legal challenge to the 2005 medical liability reform law is scheduled to be reviewed in the coming months by the Illinois Supreme Court. He encouraged the Coles and Cumberland counties doctors to advocate to their patients and others in support of the law.

Illinois health care was in a crisis in 2004-05 prior to the law’s passage, Swaminathan said. Doctors were dealing with costly liability insurance premiums caused by there being no caps on awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, he said.

Many doctors were choosing to practice medicine in other states rather than pay costly liability insurance premiums in Illinois, Swaminathan said. This situation contributed to there being 26 counties in Illinois without obstetricians/gynecologists at the time, he said.

“It was an access to care issue,� Swaminathan said.

Swaminathan said the State Medical Society went “door to door� in Illinois to campaign for medical liability reform that was ultimately passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2005.

The State Medical Society’s Web site, www.isms.org, reports the law placed no dollar limit on economic harm but capped noneconomic damages, such as awards for pain and suffering, at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals.

Swaminathan said he has spoken with obstetrician/gynecologist groups recently and heard from them that they are retaining more of their physicians in Illinois. He indicated these gains could be at risk depending on the Supreme Court’s determination on the reform law.

In other matters, Swaminathan said Illinois doctors were facing a 10.6 percent Medicare reimbursement cut in June and early July.

“That would have put many of our physicians in a really difficult position,� Swaminathan said. He added some doctors told him they did not know if they could keep their doors open if such a cut happened.

The American Medical Association told Congress that it would take the case against Medicare reimbursement cuts to voters in November if Congress did not take action to avert the cuts, Swaminathan said.

AMA had the backing of medical societies in Illinois and elsewhere that could take the case directly to voters in their states, Swaminathan said. This partnership played a role in legislation being passed in July to avert the cut, he said.

“That is what advocacy is all about,� Swaminathan said.

Contact Rob Stroud at rstroud@jg-tc.com or 348-5734.

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