CHICAGO, May 13 (UPI) -- More than 1,000 physicians and other medical workers wearing lab coats rallied at Daley Plaza Tuesday to call on Congress to fix the medical liability system.
Doctors said skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance premiums are forcing good doctors to relocate to other states or stop practicing high-risk specialties like neurosurgery, cardiology, trauma care and obstetrics.
"Awards for negligence are not based on the actual negligence," said Dr. Mokund Komandur, an orthopedic surgeon at Joliet Medical Center about 35 miles south of Chicago. "They are based on emotional appeals to juries, and frankly the lawsuits that are being taken are not based on factual evidence.
"The fact is that we are being squeezed by insurance premiums, by lawsuits that are frivolous which cost money and time and effort to defend, and in the long run your physicians are not going to be here. Practices are closing."
Komandur said the average malpractice award was $3.5 million over the past year while the average award in a drunk driving case is much less.
"Consequently we are being treated differently," he said. "It's not as if physicians aren't human. Errors do occur and patients should be appropriately compensated when they occur."
Komandur said obstetricians who used to pay $40,000 to $50,000 in medical malpractice insurance premiums are now paying up to $150,000 a year.
"You can't stay in the state of Illinois and practice. Two-thirds of the obstetricians in Colorado don't deliver babies. People are having to leave Nevada for obstetrical care. Illinois is right next-door. It's going to be right behind."
Illinois is one of 18 states considered in crisis by the American Medical Association. The others are Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.
Angry doctors chanted "Lawsuit reform now" and said they were ready to march to the office of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., at the nearby Kluczinski Federal Building. The rally was held in front of the Daley Center where most malpractice cases are tried in an area Chicago Medical Society President Neal Winston called a high-rise "trial attorney canyon."
"It's about healthcare access," said Winston, a 20-year emergency room veteran.
Durbin opposes tort reform to limit insurance liability in malpractice cases but planned to introduce a bill calling for tax credits to doctors and hospitals.
"We all agree that there is a crisis in America with doctors being severely financially impacted -- even driven out of practice altogether --- when their medical malpractice insurance becomes unaffordable," said Durbin.
Premiums in Illinois increased more than 27 percent from 2001 to 2002, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, forcing many hospitals to reduce services or close clinics, adversely impacting patient care.
Durbin said even if tort reform were enacted this year doctors would not see their malpractice premiums fall until 2006 or 2007. His legislation would allow doctors and hospitals to claim a tax credit in 2003 and 2004 for a percentage of the insurance premiums they pay. The tax break would be 20 percent of the premium for doctors in high-risk specialties and 10 percent for doctors with lower-risk practices like general medicine, dermatology and pathology.
"This is a common sense response to the crisis at hand, and I hope the Senate will act swiftly," Durbin said.
"While this financial strain is crippling individual doctors and threatening their ability to provide patients with comprehensive care, the root causes of this crisis are both numerous and complex, and Congress is right to be thorough in its debate and analysis of the issues at hand. At the same time, these are immediate steps we can take to being relief to these health providers, and that is what I am proposing today."