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Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Mar 15, 2003
by SUSAN TOM
Malpractice debate heats up
Hearings look at how patients and doctors are affected.When that first labor pain hits, the last thing most women want to do is get into a car for a 40-minute drive to the hospital.
Yet that is exactly what Fawn Brandon must do now that her doctor has stopped delivering babies.
"If an emergency happens like with my first pregnancy, I should not have to drive," Brandon said. "Oregon needs to change so that we can live easier and in our own communities."
Brandon was among several people who testified during a conference organized by the Oregon Medical Association to spotlight how patients and doctors are affected by the state's malpractice crisis.
To coincide with the first day of public hearings at the Capitol about the issue, the association also released the results of a statewide survey that found the majority of Oregonians are aware of the current malpractice crisis and support a variety of reforms, including a cap on jury awards for pain and suffering. The association hopes to get malpractice reform legislation passed this session.
The malpractice debate has been heating up since the Oregon Supreme Court lifted the cap on awards for pain and suffering in 1999.
Although the Bush administration made malpractice reform, namely a cap on pain and suffering awards, one of its goals, Dr. Connie Powell, president of the Oregon Medical Association, said she's not waiting for federal legislation to fix the problem.
Oregon already is among a dozen states with a current or looming crisis.
Patients already are experiencing access problems, forcing them to put off prenatal care, drive further and wait longer.
That's because doctors are switching specialities, leaving the state or staying away from Oregon altogether.
Dr. Robbie Law, a Reedsport family practitioner who delivered Brandon's last baby, said he stopped after a backup obstetrician left the area and his malpractice insurance premiums shot up.
Furthermore, about a third of doctors who responded to an Oregon Health & Science University survey said they plan to stop delivering babies in the next five years. The most common reason cited was the rising cost of malpractice insurance.
Trial lawyers said bad decisions by insurers and medical errors are to blame.
Harvey Rosenfield, president of the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, will present evidence today showing how damage caps failed while insurance reform kept malpractice insurance premiums stable.
Rosenfield, who authored California's 1988 insurance reform initiative Proposition 103, said caps only keep infants, women, seniors and low-income people from finding attorneys, therefore denying them their day in court.
Susan Tom can be reached at (503) 399-6744 or stom@StatesmanJournal.com
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