Emerson meets doctors over tort reform

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

More than 50,000 Americans are now over 100 years old, according to figures Dr. Charles Cozean read recently.

"That's because they all had such good lawyers," quipped John Mackel, director of recruitment for Saint Francis Medical Center.

Mackel, Cozean and several other doctors met with U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., Tuesday afternoon in Cozean's office to discuss tort reform and the high costs of medical care. What they especially want, they said, is for the current administration to remain in office so national tort reform might have a chance.

"Putting a malpractice trial lawyer like John Edwards in a position where he has influence over national health care is like putting Jack the Ripper in charge of surgery at one of the medical schools," said family practitioner Ed Masters.

One of the rising costs in health care has been insurance premiums. Dr. Scot Pringle, an obstetrician/gynecologist, said that his annual liability premiums when he began his practice in Cape Girardeau 23 years ago were $5,000. He now pays $86,000. Only five years ago, he said, the premium was $27,000.

California, Indiana exampleEmerson said that tort reform is possible and is working in California and Indiana. But although the House of Representatives twice passed a bill that would put a cap on settlements brought about by frivolous lawsuits, the bill never made it out of the Senate.

Higher medical costs affect more than the medical profession, Emerson said. In addition to forcing doctors to curtail their practices, insurance carriers are becoming more and more difficult to find. Missouri has only three, she said.

Mackel said Saint Francis recently had to "scramble" to replace its previous carrier. Because doctors are shying away from high-risk procedures, it leaves consumers, especially in rural areas and especially pregnant women, without medical care and forced to travel greater distances to get the care they need at higher cost.

Dr. Bill Kapp, an orthopedic surgeon, says doctors in his specialty are reluctant to carry out procedures that could benefit a patient for fear of being sued.

"It's a crisis in America, not just Missouri," Emerson said.

Emerson said that trial lawyers have lobbied hard against tort reform. At the same time, she said, she has not seen one American Medical Association lobbyist in her office seeking help with tort reform.

"The trial lawyers association is much stronger than the AMA," Pringle said.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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