Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Doctors' insurance hot topic in race

Candidates address malpractice awards

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Republican Ernie Fletcher on Monday said as governor he would push for a constitutional amendment aimed at limiting the cost of medical malpractice insurance for doctors.

Fletcher, a doctor himself, said Kentucky's health care system is in a state of crisis as doctors continue to leave Kentucky.

As part of his medical malpractice reform plan, Fletcher said he would favor capping non-economic damages - the amount patients could recover for pain and suffering. He also favors establishing a medical review panel to sift through malpractice lawsuits, but he would not limit economic and punitive damages, he said.

"For the sake of Kentucky's patients we must stop this hemorrhaging," Fletcher said. "My prescription for the problem is to call for a constitutional amendment that will grant the governor and legislature the authority to tackle the medical malpractice issue."

Attorney General Ben Chandler, the Democratic nominee for governor, said Fletcher's plan "misses the point entirely." Capping the amount patients can recover for pain and suffering would not help lower doctors' insurance rates, Chandler said.

Instead, Chandler said, the state should help prevent medical accidents from occurring. Chandler said he would push for a state-run malpractice insurance company to help lower doctors' costs.

"Medical malpractice rates are a problem for doctors, and the answer to that problem is taking away the profits that insurance companies make," Chandler said. "Medical malpractice insurance companies are raping doctors."

Chandler said that would reduce malpractice rates "a whole lot quicker than having to go get a constitutional amendment."

A legislative report this month concluded doctors' premiums are not lower in states with caps on pain and suffering and other non-economic damages.

The report also found review panels have helped reduce premiums in other states, but limits on punitive damages resulted in higher premiums for some doctors.

A legislative panel voted not to accept the study.

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