Statement on Medical Malpractice Reform in Illinois

Published June 2, 2005

(June 2, 2005 — Chicago, IL) The Illinois House and Senate approved legislation over the Memorial Day weekend to reform medical malpractice policy in Illinois.

The following statement in response to that legislation can be attributed to Maureen Martin, senior fellow – legal policy for The Heartland Institute, a 21-year-old nonprofit research organization based in Chicago. Martin can be contacted for further information by telephone at 920/295-6032 or 920/229-6670 (cell), or by email at [email protected].

The Illinois House and Senate approved over the Memorial Day weekend legislation that should satisfy both sides in the medical malpractice debate and that may even prove which side was right.

The legislation, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he will sign, will cap non-economic damages–such as for pain and suffering and loss of consortium–at $500,000 in a malpractice case against a physician and $1 million in a malpractice case against a hospital.

The Illinois State Medical Society, among other groups, has been lobbying strenuously for several years for such caps as a way to control spiraling premiums paid by doctors for malpractice insurance and limit damages to actual losses, including future medical care. damages. ISMS blames greedy trial lawyers paid contingent fees for the insurance premium increases.

The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and other groups contend caps won’t work. They argue malpractice insurance premiums have been increasing because of inadequate state regulation of greedy insurance companies and inadequate punishment of doctors who commit malpractice.

The legislation addresses all of these arguments. It authorizes the Illinois Department of Insurance to disapprove a malpractice premium rate increase of 6 percent or more if it finds after a hearing that the increase is not “reasonable.” The bill provides for more state investigators to look into claims of medical malpractice and expands the existing physicians’ disciplinary board. It also requires the state to establish a Web site containing physician profiles, including a five-year malpractice history.

Existing law requires attorneys who file medical malpractice cases to first obtain an affidavit from a physician that the case has merit. The new legislation heightens this requirement. The legislation also establishes the “Sorry Works” pilot program, under which a hospital will be selected and encouraged to apologize promptly for medical missteps and offer fair compensation as a means of heading off malpractice case filings.

Perhaps the most interesting provision of this medical malpractice smorgasbord, however, is one that has not received much media attention. The bill will require insurers to report to the insurance department all malpractice claims and lawsuits filed after December 31, 2005, and to notify the state of the disposition of the case–settlement, verdict, dismissal–and the amounts of economic and non-economic damages involved. Insurers also will be required to file claims and loss data for the past 10 years with the department. These data will be subject to public disclosure without patient-identifying information.

These data collection provisions should help resolve once and for all the debate over whether greedy lawyers or greedy insurance companies are to blame.

Maureen Martin ([email protected]) is senior fellow – legal policy for The Heartland Institute, a national nonprofit organization based in Chicago. Founded in 1984, Heartland’s goal is to help build social movements in support of ideas that empower people. Among other publications, Heartland publishes Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly, a newsletter documenting cases of lawsuit abuse and its impact on justice and the Rule of Law. Heartland is supported by approximately 1,500 donors and members. For more information, call Ralph Conner, Public Affairs Director, 312/377-4000, or email him at [email protected].