Opinion: Protecting patients by protecting doctors from out-of-control suits

http://www.stltoday.com

The editorial “Trademarking spin” (Dec. 23) discussed judicial reform in Illinois. Changing the judicial selection process isn’t the only way to improve the Illinois court system. For instance, the Illinois legislature protected patients’ access to care by enacting a comprehensive medical lawsuit reform law in 2005. Prior to this, out-of-control litigation in Illinois counties such as Madison and St. Clair drove many doctors, especially those in high-risk specialties, to states with more hospitable legal climates. The law has made a real difference.

The Post-Dispatch itself recognized in “Illinois’ caps on malpractice awards face court test soon” (Sept. 4, 2007) that the legal landscape changed after the passage of medical lawsuit reform law: “The tally of medical malpractice lawsuits around the state has declined […] Doctors are not fleeing the area. Some hospitals report finding new physicians is easier. More insurers are doing business in the state. Perhaps most importantly, malpractice insurance premiums have stabilized or even fallen for many doctors, anywhere from 5 to more than 30 percent.”

Madison County Chief Judge Ann E. Callis enacted promising rules for medical liability cases, including mandatory mediation and restrictions on motions to dismiss certificate of merit. These rules, coupled with the 2005 reform law, will help make frivolous lawsuits in Madison County a thing of the past while improving health care access. But that’s only if the medical lawsuit reform law is upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court, which is set to rule on the matter this year. Like Ms. Callis, the court should realize that it’s time to reform the medical litigation environment in Illinois and thereby protect patient care.

Dr. Shastri Swaminathan | Chicago

President, Illinois State Medical Society

Serious facts, please

The editorial “The 30 percent solution” (Dec. 30) claimed that “Americans spent more than $2.5 trillion on health care last year” while “46 million of us [went] without any health insurance. Unfortunately, these statements are misleading.

The popular “46 million uninsured” figure includes 10 million people who have annual incomes above $75,000. The figure also includes about 14 million people who are eligible for government programs such as Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance Program but have neglected to enroll. Is it fair to count as uninsured those who don’t take advantage of public programs or those who choose not to buy policies?

If we’re to solve the serious problems facing the U.S. health care system, it’s critical that we get the facts right.

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