Friday, September 17, 2004

Senators hear doctors'
complaints about costs

By Tim Bonfield
Enquirer staff writer

U.S. Senate majority leader Bill Frist said he has tried and failed three times in the past year to push through some form of medical-malpractice reform.

Thursday, he told a group of Cincinnati physicians and hospital administrators that he plans to keep on trying after the November elections.

"Ten years ago, people saw this as an increasing expense for rich doctors," Frist said. "Today, people recognize that the crisis is real."

Frist, R-Tenn., is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and was a practicing surgeon when first elected to the Senate in 1994.

Frist and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, got a quick tour of University Hospital on Thursday and an earful of comments about soaring malpractice insurance premiums. Doctors told the lawmakers that insurance rates are going up so fast that some specialists - especially obstetricians in rural counties - are closing their practices, retiring early or moving out-of-state.

The UC Physicians specialty group has witnessed a 123 percent increase in malpractice rates in the past two years. Dr. Evangeline Andarsio, an obstetrician/gynecologist, said her malpractice rates have soared 250 percent in the past few years.

Frist and Voinovich said opposition from trial lawyers has swayed enough senators to stall proposed reforms that would set limits on huge malpractice jury awards and slow down soaring premiums.

Even though Republicans have majorities in the House and Senate, bills don't get debated because,so far, the narrowly divided Senate has been unable to line up 60 votes needed to defeat potential filibusters.

Voinovich said more reform attempts will be made because the issue isn't going away.

"We do have a crisis," Voinovich said.

"I think the biggest domestic problem confronting America today is health care."


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