BUSH ON MALPRACTICE - Kristen Friend-Weaver

07/11/03

Governor Bush spoke this morning about what he is calling a medical malpractice crisis to a group of doctors and administrators at the Moffitt Cancer and Research Center. In his statements, he told of a growing number of doctors who refuse to practice in Florida and the resulting lack of adequate care for Florida’s citizens. The governor also highlighted his proposal that would limit jury awards for pain and suffering to 250,000 dollars. WMNF’s Kristen Friend-Weaver attended the event and has this report…

Governor Bush’s visit to Tampa comes a day after the Florida House passed what is being called compromise legislation that limits jury awards for pain and suffering to one million dollars in certain cases. However, critics of such caps say that it is still unclear how limits on damages will affect rising malpractice insurance rates. The House could have addressed insurers directly when it considered an amendment that would have forced them to cut premiums 25% for doctors and 35% for hospitals. However, that amendment was struck down during the special session.

During his remarks, Governor Bush did show signs of backing down on his rigid 250,000 dollar damage cap proposal. He applauded the House’s efforts and said that he would sign similar legislation if it passed the Senate. However, Bush said that he will not approve the Senate legislation in its current state. The Senate bill allows victims to sue for up to 1.5 million dollars in most cases and up to 6 million dollars in the worst cases. The Governor called the malpractice insurance situation in Florida “out of control� and said that everyone’s focus out to be on reform, not politics. He said that the burden of the rising costs of practice has fallen most heavily on Florida’s citizens…

But the malpractice issue has created prolonged bickering within the Republican Party. Republican Senate President Jim King accused Bush last month of trying to “get even� with trial lawyers through his steadfast support of malpractice lawsuit damage caps. Other prominent Republicans have stressed that there is no Republican doctrine that says pain and suffering damages must not exceed 250,000 dollars. A recently exposed e-mail written by Governor Bush’s deputy chief illustrates the division. It outlines who in the Senate needs to be targeted for political attacks because they oppose the Governor’s plans. Bush responded to questions about the email by denying it had political implications…

However, when asked if there were any specific Senators being targeted for attacks, the Governor simply responded, “not at this time.� He then attempted to clarify his statement…

Regardless of the Governor’s efforts, not everyone involved is convinced that damage caps are the real issue. Some have gone so far as to accuse Governor Bush of inventing a crisis in order to appease big insurance companies. According to the group Public Citizen, the real crisis is doctors making too many mistakes and insurance companies trying to make up for dips in stock revenues. A Public Citizen analysis of federal records shows that total damages paid to Florida malpractice victims actually declined 4 percent last year. Therefore the rise in premiums cannot be the result of rising settlements. WMNF asked the Governor about these claims, but he declined to comment on the issue.

Regardless of the controversy within his party, Governor Bush has promised to continue calling special sessions until legislation is passed that he considers appropriate. For WMNF news, I’m Kristen Friend-Weaver.

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