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From Sen. Bill Brady

[MAY 31, 2005] 

Long-awaited malpractice reform good first step

The medical malpractice reform agreement reached May 25 is long overdue.

More than two years ago -- on Feb. 26, 2003 -- several hundred doctors came to Springfield to rally against skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance premiums that were driving physicians and hospitals out of business and leaving Illinois citizens with fewer health care options. At that same time, I introduced legislation that addressed the crisis, but state Democratic leaders blocked my efforts. Now, more than two years later, we have finally come to a long overdue compromise that will benefit the citizens of Illinois.

The agreement includes comprehensive medical, insurance and legal reforms, and it caps noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals. While I consider it a victory that we convinced Democratic leaders to cave on their opposition to caps on noneconomic damages, I would have liked the caps to be $250,000 for doctors and $500,000 for hospitals. But, this is a good first step.

Other provisions of the agreement will:

  • Raise the standards that medical malpractice suits must meet before moving forward, as a means of preventing frivolous lawsuits.
  • Allow doctors to apologize to patients without those statements being used against them legally.
  • Enhance competition in the medical malpractice insurance market.
  • Increase the number of medical investigators and coordinators.
  • Create a website where patients can find out information on Illinois physicians and any medical malpractice lawsuits that have been filed against them.

The agreement is supported by the Illinois State Medical Society and Illinois Hospital Association.

Democratic plan to skip pension payments is irresponsible

Illinois Democrats have proposed a plan to balance the state budget on the backs of teachers and other state employees like prison guards and road workers.

Democratic leaders met with Gov. Rod Blagojevich May 26 to work on a deal that will balance the budget by taking $1.1 billion per year for two years from pension funds and putting them into the General Revenue Fund, a highly controversial move that would severely burden future administrators and taxpayers.

The decision to take a "pension holiday" violates the 1995 pension funding law, which established a 50-year funding plan to meet pension liabilities. Under this pension law, the governor owes more than $2.6 billion to the pension systems.

"Pension holiday?" This is no more of a holiday than a cruise on the Titanic was.

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Study says state lacks willpower to solve pension crisis

Because it has underfunded its state public employee pensions for some 25 years, Illinois faces a pension fund crisis of historic proportions, but a new study released by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute shows that lawmakers have shown little stomach for a showdown with public employee unions and other interest groups to enact a plan that would provide a long-term solution.

At the end of fiscal 2004, Illinois' unfunded pension liability stood at $35.1 billion, a greater amount than any other state. Total liabilities stood at nearly $90 billion. Fund assets were just 60.9 percent of liabilities, second-worst in the nation. State funding of public employee pensions has gone from about $635 million in 1996 to an estimated $2.6 billion in fiscal 2006, and could reach $14 billion by 2045.

The study's author, Steve Stanek, managing editor of a national monthly newspaper on state budget and tax issues, says the lack of willpower by the state's elected officials is the biggest reason the crisis exists. "Several fixes have been tried over the years," he notes, "and the funding problem has grown worse as elected officials failed to show sufficient willpower to avoid increasing benefits or diverting funds to other budget priorities."

Independent study confirms merits of Medicaid managed care

An independent study released earlier this month strongly supports a proposal by Senate Republican lawmakers that could save Illinois millions of dollars each year and improve the quality of care for patients by implementing a greater degree of managed care principles in Medicaid.

The study by the Lewin Group, a leading independent health care consultant, suggests managed care reforms could save taxpayers approximately $1.5 billion in Medicaid costs over a five-year period.

Medicaid costs have escalated at an average rate of 8 percent since fiscal 1999. Left unchecked, Medicaid will claim larger allocations of the budget at the expense of other programs, including education. The use of managed care reforms in the Medicaid system will not only save millions each year, it will give patients access to a better quality of health care.

The General Assembly created the Medicaid Managed Care Task Force and commissioned an independent study after my Senate Republican colleagues and I demanded that the issue of managed care be part of last year's budget negotiations. The task force became a cornerstone for my support of the final budget a year ago.

[From Sen. Bill Brady]

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