The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

February 21, 2010

State rules on side of citizens

Peter J. Flowers is president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.

Recently the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against placing arbitrary caps on victims’ compensation. This was the third time the issue was before the court, and the third straight time the court has ruled in favor of the citizens of our state.

The court is to be applauded for its defense of the ordinary citizen, but unfortunately there are some who do not share this sentiment.

The issue of medical malpractice is complex, and in order to understand all of its elements it is vitally important to separate fact from fiction.

However, those who side with the insurance industry have had an unfavorable reaction to the decision and in opposing the decision, they have chosen to ignore the facts and instead spread fiction.

Stating that the absence of caps caused an exodus of doctors from Illinois is pure fiction. The hard fact is that since 1963 the number of doctors in Illinois has increased. Where is the exodus if every year for the past 47 years has been marked by a gain in physicians statewide?

The fiction is that insurance premiums for doctors rose because of the need to compensate patients whose lives have been forever changed by medical mistakes.

The fact is the rise in premiums has more to do with insurance company greed than it does with compensation for victims. Exhibit A in this rogue’s gallery is ISMIE, the state’s largest medical malpractice insurer who recorded profits of $124.2 million from 2006 through 2008.

It is not correct to say insurance premiums fell because of caps on victim compensation; it is correct to say what little decrease occurred happened because of insurance reform and state mandates.

Insurance companies such as ISMIE didn’t reduce what they charge doctors until they were forced to by the state, despite racking up those enormous profits.

The worst fiction is the notion that compensation for victims of medical negligence are to be regarded as “jackpots” or “bonanzas” or some other description that implies the victim has unjustly won some prize.

The fact is victims of medical negligence will suffer from those errors for the rest of their lives, and in no stretch of the imagination have they won anything other than justice.

The real solution to rising insurance premiums for physicians won’t be found by capping awards, but by reforming the insurance industry. In fact, the insurance reforms contained in the now overturned legislation spurred competition, and it was that competition that lowered rates for doctors. Those reforms work, and they should be re-enacted so doctors are not faced with unconscionable increases in their premiums.

Health care in Illinois will improve when, and only when, insurance companies are held accountable. True reform of the insurance industry will ensure a thriving health care system that works for all of us.

And that’s no fiction. It’s a fact.