I'm determined to act on malpractice reform


Tennessee-As the second half of the 105th General Assembly gets under way, the legislature is faced with how to solve many problems in the areas of education, the budget and immigration. However, one of the major problems brewing in this state is that of medical malpractice.

Attempts were made to pass reform last year, but we were locked in a stalemate, and ultimately, nothing was done.

Tennessee has been declared a medical liability “crisis state” by the American Medical Association, joining 20 other states where a deteriorating medical liability climate is jeopardizing access to health care.

Malpractice insurance premiums and climbing jury awards have already begun to force many of Tennessee’s doctors to opt for early retirement, shutting down their practices or eliminating high-risk and lifesaving procedures. Other doctors, obstetricians in particular, are finding it difficult to continue practice and are opting to simply close their doors or to move to those states where insurance can be obtained at a lower price. This, in turn, is detrimentally impacting access to health care for all Tennesseans, especially in areas where doctors and other health-care providers are already in short supply.

Unlimited and unpredictable legal awards have resulted in the rising cost of medical liability insurance premiums that our doctors and hospitals then must pass on by raising the cost of health care. While insurance premiums have risen nationwide, the percentage of increase is much less dramatic in those states that have enacted medical liability reform.

Big awards commonplace

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has noted, “as multimillion-dollar jury awards have become more commonplace in recent years, these problems have reached crisis proportions.” We should make this issue a priority in Tennessee. While we certainly understand the importance of fair compensation for economic damages, we also recognize the burden exorbitant punitive rulings place upon our physicians and, therefore, upon our health-care system as a whole.

In 2002, those states without litigation reform faced medical liability premium increases that ranged from 36 percent to 113 percent. Tennessee was the sixth- highest with an increase of 65 percent.

So can medical malpractice reform really solve these problems? Reforms passed in California, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina and West Virginia greatly improved the medical malpractice climate. The number of lawsuits against physicians dropped dramatically, and insurers have announced premium cuts for 2006 and rebates on 2005 premiums.

I believe that the passage of these comprehensive reforms is crucial. If Tennesseans are going to continue to have access to quality affordable health care, then we as a state must protect our health-care system from far-reaching and frivolous malpractice lawsuits. I am committed to passing comprehensive medical malpractice reform that includes caps on non-economic damages and will work tirelessly until this goal is accomplished.
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