Republicans in the state senate are seeking a half a million dollar cap on the “non-economic” “pain and suffering” awards in medical malpractice cases. Doctor Greg Cohen, president of the Iowa Osteopathic Medical Association, says doctors all over Iowa have quit delivering babies because of the ever-escalating costs of medical malpractice insurance.
Cohen says his medical malpractice insurance rates have quadrupled since he joined a group of physicians practicing in Chariton 11 years ago. He sees patients in his office, delivers babies, works in a hospital emergency room and at a nursing home. “I can see the writing’s on the wall,” he says. “If this trend continues, I won’t be able to continue to provide the services that I provide in Chariton.” Cohen says something must be done to “stabilize” medical malpractice insurance rates.
But the doctor acknowledges that liability reform is a complicated issue. Cohen says patients who have been injured ought to have access to all the health care they need and reimbursement for lost wages — for the rest of their lives, if necessary. But he says “pain and suffering” damage awards often go to the lawyers who try the cases.
Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who used to be president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, has vetoed past attempts by Republicans in the legislature to place a cap on “pain and suffering” awards. Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Clarion, says that’s why this year’s bill is modeled after a law in Illinois that was passed by Democrats in the Illinois legislature and signed by the Democrat governor of Illinois. Iverson says rather than dismiss the bill “willy nilly” Republicans are trying to draft something Vilsack might sign.
But Vilsack has said Iowa juries act responsibly in such cases and aren’t giving astronomical “non-economic” awards in medical malpractice cases. Senate Co-President Jeff Lamberti, a Republican from Ankeny who is a lawyer, says 25 states have caps, and the increases on medical malpractice insurance have been held in check. Lamberti says he’s troubled that it’s a partisan issue. Lamberti says it’s not a rural issue, either, since some doctors in urban areas, like Cedar Rapids, have quit delivering babies because of the cost of liability insurance.