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Published: Saturday, 7/17/2004

Cheney visit to address rising health-care costs

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Vice President Dick Cheney's remarks during a campaign stop Monday in Toledo will focus largely on rising health-care costs, including President Bush's support of limiting medical malpractice awards.

Republicans say frivolous lawsuits have helped spark the rise in health-care costs and, in many cases, have driven doctors to retire early, stop doing high-risk procedures, or leave states such as Ohio where premiums are high.

Yesterday, in advance of Monday's speech in the Dana Conference Center at the Medical College of Ohio - which is not open to the public - the Bush-Cheney campaign presented two Toledo obstetrician-gynecologists who they said were hurt by rising insurance premiums.

Dr. David Tullis and Dr. Ann Smith, who practice at the Toledo Clinic, said they will stop delivering babies by the end of this month because of rising malpractice premiums.

"Our premiums had increased 35 percent a year for the past three years, and it was only a matter of time before our premiums would be more than our incomes," Dr. Smith said.

Her colleague said action is needed to fix the problem.

"Something really has to be done. Some of these claims are just unreasonable," said Dr. Tullis, who noted that his premiums would have been $75,000 annually if he continued to deliver babies.

Many physicians say even doctors who have not been sued are hit with rapidly rising premiums.

According to Lucas County Common Pleas Court records, Dr. Tullis was sued four times from 1995 through 2000.

Two of the cases were dismissed without any money paid out, and two cases were settled with money being paid out, though there was no admission of guilt, Dr. Tullis said.

Dr. Smith has no record of lawsuits filed against her in Lucas County.

Mr. Bush has pushed Congress to pass a law limiting punitive damages to $250,000 or twice the amount of lost wages, medical costs, and other economic damages, whichever is greater.

An Ohio law that took effect last year capped jury awards for pain, suffering, mental anguish, and other intangible, noneconomic damages at $1 million in the most serious cases and $500,000 in others.

Democrats and many trial lawyers say there is no solid proof that rising malpractice premiums are caused by frivolous lawsuits.

They also say there is no reliable evidence that doctors in Ohio, for example, are leaving the state or retiring early.

The Ohio Department of Insurance insists this is occurring, however, and has compiled a list of 186 physicians it says have left, retired early, or stopped doing risky procedures.

A review by The Blade in April found the number of Ohio physicians with active medical licenses increased 5 percent from 1998 through last year, from 36,464 to 38,332.

Physicians say that does not prove doctors are not affected because most physicians keep their licenses after they retire, and it doesn't show how many doctors have stopped doing high-risk procedures.

Contact Luke Shockman at:

lshockman@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.



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