"During my State of the State address, I called for medical
malpractice reform because we can't make health care more accessible
or more affordable if we can't keep doctors in our state,"
Blagojevich said. "As governor, my top priority is making sure that
people have health care. And, over the past three years, we've made
sure that nearly 330,000 working parents and their children received
the health care they need. I'm proud of that, but without doctors,
we don't have health care. Today, with this legislation, we're
taking a major step forward to make sure that doctors keep
practicing in Illinois and people get the medical care they need."
Senate Bill 475, sponsored by Sen. James Clayborne Jr., D-East
St. Louis, and Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, limits the amount a jury
can award for personal pain and suffering to $500,000 from
physicians and $1,000,000 for hospital judgments. While these limits
were higher than some had advocated for, they represent reasonable
restraints on the awards that can be made to victims of malpractice.
With award ceilings established, insurance companies, self-insured
health care providers and physicians will be able to better plan for
the monetary costs associated with malpractice awards. To reduce
frivolous lawsuits, the bill also requires that before a case can be
brought against a physician or hospital, another doctor must certify
that the action has merit and should be brought to court.
"This was a reasonable compromise that required all sides to give
a little in order to ensure we could bring a final resolution to a
medical crisis that has not only plagued the Metro East, but is now
affecting communities all across Illinois," said Clayborne, Senate
sponsor of the legislation. "This is not just a bill about caps. We
now have state law that includes important insurance reforms and
provisions giving patients greater access to information regarding
their doctor and medical care."
"With the help of doctors, hospitals, patient advocates and legal
experts, these reforms were crafted to provide much-needed
protections for doctors and hospitals, while providing for tougher
disciplinary standards for the bad doctors," said Reitz, sponsor in
the House. "I am proud to have worked with all the parties involved
to be part of the solution to this problem. I applaud the governor
for joining the General Assembly in approving this historic
legislation and look forward to the positive results for our
region's health care."
"We thank Governor Blagojevich for recognizing the urgent need
for litigation reforms that will keep doctors in Illinois and
preserve access to medical care for our patients," said Craig A.
Backs, M.D., president of the Illinois State Medical Society.
"Illinois' unbearable medical litigation crisis forced me to
actively look outside of this state to practice medicine," said
Andrew A. Roth, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in
Lombard. "The signing of this legislation allows me to stay and take
care of my patients."
Other provisions of the measure increase the state's ability to
moderate the costs of malpractice insurance and reduce incidents of
malpractice by more aggressively disciplining physicians when
warranted. The law also creates opportunities for ordinary
Illinoisans to access information about an individual doctor's
medical experience and qualifications, as well as bringing new
information to consumers about the doctors licensed in Illinois.
Insurance code changes
Senate Bill 475 makes it possible for the state, for the first
time, to deny medical malpractice rate increases. In addition to
eliminating a requirement that the business climate in Illinois be
deemed "noncompetitive," the Department of Financial and
Professional Regulation will also collect and make available
actuarial data relied upon for pricing by every medical malpractice
If a company files a request for medical malpractice rate
increases of more than 6 percent, public hearings on the proposed
increase will be mandatory. For lesser increases, the Department of
Financial and Professional Regulation can conduct public hearings to
determine whether the rate increases are justified. This provision
was drafted to subject premium increases to greater public scrutiny.
By increasing the information that is publicly available, the law
intends to make the malpractice insurance business more attractive
to companies that have felt closed out of a state where one company
collects over 60 percent of the medical malpractice premiums.
Increased competition should stabilize insurance rates.
The new law also makes changes to the way physicians are
regulated and the Medical Practice Act is enforced. Two additional
public members, who are not physicians, will be appointed to the
Medical Disciplinary Board, which reviews citizen complaints and
disciplinary actions against licensed doctors.
Several changes in the law give Medical Enforcement Division
staff additional authority to prosecute violations and discipline
doctors. The law increases the statute of limitations from five to
10 years, so the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
will be able to prosecute "pattern of practice" cases to discipline
doctors who have multiple simple negligence cases in which no single
case rises to the level of gross negligence. The law also makes it
easier for investigators to gain access to evidence when a case is
opened because of actions by a court, insurance company, medical
facility or another state's medical board.
More investigators will be hired to increase disciplinary
oversight of doctors. Investigators will have increased authority to
demand case files when a mandatory report of a legal judgment,
hospital disciplinary action, criminal or civil conviction, or
insurance settlement is received by the Department of Financial and
Professional Regulation. The law also makes it easier for
prosecutors to develop cases based on a longer period of a
physician's potentially dangerous or inappropriate medical care.
Physician profiling website
Senate Bill 475 creates a new opportunity for Illinoisans to
learn about the doctors who treat them. An Internet site will be
created with access to background information about doctors. The
site will contain data on the previous five years' history involving
criminal convictions, malpractice awards, and disciplinary actions
taken by the state of Illinois or reported by other states.
The legislation becomes effective immediately.
"With so much at stake, we cannot think that just because we
passed this bill, our work is done," the governor said. "We have to
aggressively regulate insurers so that we can increase competition
and reduce prices, and we have to make sure that patients have the
information they need about their doctors. Those are all critical
elements to making sure this bill does what it is supposed to do.
Everyone should have health care. I believe that very strongly. And
that means having doctors available to help you."
[to top of second column in this article]
Senate Bill 475 is part of Blagojevich's long-standing effort to
make sure that more people get more health care and better benefits;
protect coverage for those who have health care; and help hospitals,
doctors and nurses provide better health care. Specifically:
Best in the nation for providing
health care to the working poor: Since Blagojevich took
office, 313,000 more men, women and children have received
health care through the KidCare and FamilyCare programs -- at a
time when most states are not only not providing more coverage
for the working poor, but also kicking people off Medicaid or
significantly reducing their benefits. This year's budget
included funding to add another 56,000 men, women and children.
The Kaiser Foundation has ranked Illinois the best state in the
nation for providing health care to people who need it.
Fourth state in the nation to
publicly fund stem cell research: Blagojevich and
Comptroller Dan Hynes announced this month that Illinois became
the first state in the Midwest, and only the fourth state in the
nation, to commit public funds to the lifesaving work of stem
cell research. By executive order, the governor directed the
Illinois Department of Public Health to create a program that
will award $10 million in grants to medical research facilities
for the development of treatments and cures. Studying stem cells
allows scientists and doctors to better understand what causes
serious medical illnesses and conditions in hopes of discovering
new ways to treat or even cure them.
One of only a handful of states
to protect Medicaid recipients: The budget signed by
Blagojevich a few weeks ago ensures -- for the third consecutive
year, despite facing budget deficits -- that Medicaid recipients
maintain their health care, unlike states ranging from Missouri
to Tennessee to Texas to Washington that are either kicking
people off Medicaid or significantly reducing benefits.
First state to develop a
statewide small-business health insurance pool and program: Blagojevich and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce are
developing a small-business health insurance program that will
help small businesses reduce their costs by 10 percent to 15
percent and provide more health care for their employees.
Illinois will be the first state to create a pool that
businesses of 50 or fewer employees can join, saving money on
the negotiated rate, administrative costs and broker fees.
First state to make prescription
drugs from Europe and Canada available: Under Blagojevich,
Illinois became the first state to allow its citizens to
purchase prescription drugs from Europe and Canada. More than
10,000 people have enrolled in the last few months alone to take
advantage of lower prices -- 25 percent to 50 percent less --
for over 120 name-brand prescription drugs.
Most comprehensive state response
to fill gaps in the federal prescription drug benefit: The
governor signed the Leave No Senior Behind legislation, which is
Illinois' response to the federal Medicare prescription drug
benefit. Because of the major holes in the federal program, the
governor's plan fills in the gaps, so Illinois seniors will not
suffer the same fate that face seniors in other states.
First state to require
pharmacists to dispense female contraceptives: In April,
Blagojevich issued an emergency rule requiring pharmacists whose
pharmacies sell contraception to dispense birth control to women
with valid prescriptions. The governor's emergency rule became
permanent this month. First lady Patti Blagojevich also launched
a new website designed to help women learn how to have their
birth control costs covered by their insurance companies.
Additionally, seven leading contraceptives are now available
through the state's I-Save Rx program at discounts of as much as
79 percent off the price currently charged at pharmacies in
Improving women's health
programs: Blagojevich created the Illinois Healthy Women
program to provide health care to women who otherwise would go
without. To date, the program has served more than 100,000
women. The governor also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, seeking approval of his plan to
expand the Illinois Healthy Women program to cover an additional
50,000 women. In addition, Illinois has dramatically increased
the number of mammograms and cervical cancer screenings since
Blagojevich took office.
Signing lifesaving women's health
legislation: Blagojevich signed into law several bills
providing additional cancer screenings for women and expanding
funds for critical cancer research. The laws require insurers to
cover breast cancer screening earlier in a woman's life and to
cover ovarian cancer screenings for at-risk women. A third law
created a scratch-off lottery game to raise money for breast
cancer research. A fourth law expanded a cancer research fund to
include ovarian cancer research.
Accessing nearly $2 billion in
new federal health care money: Blagojevich signed hospital
assessment legislation that will mean nearly $2 billion in new
federal funding for Illinois hospitals. Last year, the governor
persuaded the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to
approve a plan that meant nearly $500 million in new federal
funds for Illinois hospitals. The new plan, which requires
federal approval but was constructed with their guidelines in
mind, means more than three times that amount.
- Reducing the nursing shortage: Blagojevich signed a
package of bills aimed at reducing the nursing shortage in
Illinois, including making it easier for foreign nurses to
practice in Illinois. The state also eliminated the nurses'
registration backlog this April and increased the amount
available in grants for nursing training. This fulfills the
initiative launched by the governor in his State of the State
address to reduce the nursing shortage.
[News release from the governor's