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Thursday, December 30, 2004

He's like Robin of the Hood!

Posted by: Hammer / 1:28 PM

Family doctor to partisan hack
My view from the left Mainstream Media says Views from the right

Tom Schwieterman, fast becoming a part-time physician and full-time media icon, is still not delivering babies in Ohio. Schwieterman announced his campaign to stop delivering babies in March, 2004. After six months of news coverage (here, and here, and here, for starters, Schwieterman deliered his last baby in September. Schwieterman then delivered his last baby September 30. Schwieterman had a man date with President Bush on October 22. "It was an experience of a lifetime," Schwieterman said. "I was amazed more than anything at his warmness, how genuine and wholesome he seemed. He spoke to us like anyone you'd meet from Mercer County." Schwieterman again delivered his last baby in October.

""Something is wrong when a legal situation is preventing us from doing a service for very little income," Schwieterman said in May. The average OB/Gyn grosses $595,000 annually, pays $73,000 in malpractice premiums, and has a net income of $256,000. Schwieterman's insurance premium was recently increased to $80,000 annually. On average, doctors spend ten times as much paying their own salaries as they spend on malpractice premiums.

Schwieterman noted that his premium was $25,000 in 2000, but did not say what the 2004 increase was, why he was willing to deliver babies while paying the 2004 premium but not the 2005 premium, or why he believed a damages cap would reduce premiums when Ohio passed a cap in 2003. Ohio also capped punitive damages in 1996. Schwieterman's focus on blaming an explosion of malpractice claims is even more curious considering that the number of malpractice lawsuits filed has not changed since 1995, but juries -- who Schwieterman also singles out for blame -- are returning verdicts for plaintiffs half as often as they did 10 years ago.

Perhaps, then, the real reason President Bush is rushing to aid physicians is the massive influx of lobbying cash: $10 million for the Institute for Legal Reform, $9 million from the AMA, $8 milliion from big pharama, and $6 million from the American Hosptial Association. Gruesomely, groups have spent as much money lobbying the government to limit consumers rights when a doctor cuts off the wrong leg as the federal government has pledged to help tsunami victims.

If the payoffs aren't the reason Bush is rushing, perhaps it's because the facts are not on his side:

    Malpractice claims are declining. The number of malpractice cases filed in the nation's 75 largest counties fell from 1,356 in 1992 to 1,112 in 2001. Denver Post. The number of malpractice payouts declined from 2.46 payouts per 100 doctors in 1994 to 2.19 payouts per 100 doctors in 2003. Practitioner's Databank
    Overall tort verdicts are declining. The average jury verdict in tort suits has declined from $65,000 in 1992 to $37,000 in 2001. Justice Department
    Malpractice costs are small portion of health care spending. Total malpractice costs were $24 billion in 2002,less than 2% of total health care spending. Congressional Budget Office Premiums account for less than 1% of spending. Public Citizen
    Sadly, doctors are lying about the crisis. In Nevada, 1/3 of the 34 OB/GYNs who claimed to leave practice due to malpratice concerns did not, in fact, leave practice. GAO
    Insurance company investment returns drive premiums. From 2000 to 2002, insurer investment returns dropped by 1.6%, which accounts for about half the increase in premium rates. Congressional Budget Office.

Perhaps a recent article in the Washington Monthly said it best: "Unfortunately, Newsweek's one-sided coverage of the civil justice system is the rule, not the exception. Every few months, one or another newspaper, magazine, or television show does a story just like it. They all hew to a standard line, starting with a juicy but misleading--or even fictitious--lawsuit horror story typically describing an irresponsible plaintiff, followed by "studies" on the economic damage of the tort system published by corporate front groups, finally ending with calls for "reforms" to rein in mushy-headed juries and greedy trial lawyers. Such skewed coverage represents a victory in a sustained, 50-year public relations assault on the civil justice system by the insurance industry, tobacco companies, and other corporate giants. It's helped fuel political support for curtailing Americans' right to hold corporations and individuals accountable for negligence, fraud, and other malfeasance in court. Perhaps more serious, journalists' willingness to perpetuate anti-lawsuit propaganda has gravely jeopardized Americans' unique democratic right to participate on civil juries."

Doctors: Premiums threaten livelihood

From Star Tribune, December 29, 2004

Tom Schwieterman and his brother quit delivering babies in October because they said they could no longer afford it.

The doctors had never been sued, but the annual cost of their malpractice insurance jumped from $25,000 to $80,000 in four years.

"We should be getting up at 2 in the morning and delivering babies," said Schwieterman, 37, a fourth-generation family doctor from Mercer County, Ohio. "We should be burning the midnight oil, because this is the prime of our careers, and it got taken away."

Spurred by a growing chorus of those complaints, President Bush is rushing to the aid of the nation's physicians. He wants to put a limit on the amount of money doctors can be forced to pay if found guilty of malpractice.

"We cannot have the legal system ... be a legal lottery," Bush said earlier this month, referring to multimillion-dollar jury awards.

Bush is promising to press the issue in the 109th Congress, which convenes next week. And doctors are turning up the volume on Capitol Hill, saying their livelihoods are at stake.

"What this system does is to make trial lawyers rich," said Charles Lockwood, professor and chairman of the Yale School of Medicine's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences.

The hardest-hit specialties include obstetricians, gynecologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, heart surgeons, plastic surgeons and general surgeons, according to Larry Smarr, president of the Physicians Insurers Association of America.

In the past five years, Lockwood said, the number of U.S. medical student graduates entering obstetrics and gynecology has declined by 40 percent, and that there's a "collective and palpable malaise" among doctors who fear lawsuits.

"Their judgment is being questioned all the time," Lockwood said.

The battle is pitting two of the nation's most prestigious professions against each other. Lawyers say that they're being made scapegoats and that Bush wants to strip the rights of those seriously harmed by sloppy medical practices.

"It's a travesty," said James Williams of the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth, whose wife, Sharon, has been in a coma since a routine hysterectomy went awry nearly five years ago.

Williams, who received an out-of-court settlement with Fairview-University Medical Center of Minneapolis, said it takes $450,000 a year to care for his paraplegic wife: "The costs are tremendous, and they're not being capped."

Lockwood said he's angry about having to pay so much to defend himself in court. He has been sued eight times in cases that ultimately went nowhere.

"It's an insult to me," he said. "It says that my care has not been good, and I think I'm one of the best doctors in the world. ... The bottom line is, it's a direct blow to our egos."

With the Star Tibune writing Bush up as a knight errant racing to save us all from a medical disaster, I don't think we need to see what the fringe has to say.


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