There’s a real crisis

Dr. Sandra Koch has practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Carson City for 15 years.

I read with interest the article in last week’s paper titled “Junk lawsuits: how journalism invented the litigation ‘crisis.’ “ You observe that journalists often write biased stories due to lack of complete information. Well, your article is full of misinformation.

Crisis? What healthcare crisis? In 1985, when the state population (969,370) began its unprecedented growth rate, Nevada ranked 34th in the nation in physicians per 100,000 people. In 2002, as a result of the medical liability crisis, Nevada dropped to 48th in the nation with 162 physicians per 100,000 population to compared with the national average of 288 per 100,000. The national comparison data for 2003 aren’t yet available, but Nevada’s physician to population ratio had slipped again to 157 per 100,000 persons. Patients are losing access to both primary care and specialist physicians. Patients will suffer.

You say caps (limits on pain and suffering proposed in Question No. 3) don’t help? Then why do states with caps have 12 percent more physicians per capita than states without caps? Why has California seen only a 168 percent increase in medical liability premiums since passing tort reform in 1975 in contrast to the 420 percent increase in the remainder of the country? Why did Texas see a 20 percent drop in liability premiums from its biggest policy writer for Texas hospitals and a 17 percent decrease from its largest physician policy writer within a year after passing effective tort reform? Why are 10 different carriers now seeking entrance into the Texas market to write physician policies while eight out of the 15 carriers who were writing physician liability policies in Nevada have left the state? In Carson City, there are only two physician policy writers left, one of which is the state.

There’s no increase in awards, you say? Then how do you explain the 110 percent increase in median medical liability awards between 1994 and 2002 and the increase from $3.69 billion in 1999 to $4.9 billion in payments to plaintiffs?

Juries aren’t easily swayed, you say? A recent study sited in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the only predictor for payment to medical malpractice plaintiffs in the form of jury verdict or settlement was disability. The presence or absence of negligent medical care was not a factor.

Instead of denying the healthcare crisis in Nevada, let’s try to fix it. We need to pass Question No. 3 before disaster truly strikes, and then let’s put our heads together and find some new solution. The current tort system is a highly inefficient method for compensating injured parties since less then 40 cents of every dollar actually reaches the injured party in Nevada. This isn’t about demonizing lawyers or doctors, it’s about a broken tort system missing adequate checks and balances, and, more importantly, it’s about maintaining access to good healthcare!