CANTON - Dr. Tom Schwieterman is a fourth-generation family physician in rural Mercer County, in west-central Ohio. In 113 years of service, his family has delivered 10,000 children.
But the final one was delivered last month, he told President Bush here yesterday.
The reason, he said, was drastically increasing malpractice premiums that have risen 40 percent this year.
Mr. Bush took the anecdote as an opportunity to rail against the "frivolous and junk lawsuits" that he said are pushing premiums up and too many physicians out of the business.
"This country needs medical liability reform now!" the President bellowed from the stage of the Canton Palace Theatre, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,500 people.
Mr. Bush was joined on stage for the public policy forum by four Ohio residents - Dr. Schwieterman and another doctor, a pregnant woman, and an accountant who started health savings accounts for employees.
The other physician, Dr. Barbara Coen of Norton, Ohio, recounted similar problems with malpractice premiums. Her practice had to stop delivering babies and had little time to break the news to 110 pregnant women.
"The response was anger, disbelief, what is wrong with the system, why is this happening?" she said. "We had patients writing us notes telling us: I promise I won't sue you. Please deliver my baby."
Mr. Bush, appearing with his wife, Laura, and two daughters, Jenna and Barbara, in this battleground state, said there needs to be effective legislation that works to address this issue by putting a real cap on noneconomic damages.
He said he brings a "common-sense approach" to make sure health care is available and affordable. Small businesses ought to be able to pool their risk to get the same discounts as big companies on insurance, and generic drugs should be moved to market more quickly, he said.
The war on terror and the need to keep taxes low came up during the event as well. Mr. Bush said he's made America "safer, stronger, and better," and said his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, has a weak record in all of those areas that he should not be able to distort.
"He can run. He can even run in camo" - a reference to Mr. Kerry's hunting trip in Youngstown on Thursday - "but he cannot hide," Mr. Bush said.
Brendon Cull, Democratic spokesman in Ohio, said the President's focus on medical malpractice tackles only a tiny piece of the larger problem of health care.
"George Bush used his time in Canton today to demagogue and mislead about the real issues," he said. "A real health-care plan for America is a jobs plan for America. One of the reasons that so many people across the country don't have good, affordable health care is because so many jobs have been lost."
Mr. Bush was joined at yesterday's event by Gov. Bob Taft and Lt. Gov. Jennette Bradley as well as George McKelvey, the Democratic mayor of Youngstown and a fiery Bush supporter.
The scene in the historic, ornate, Canton theater took place just down the street from where President William McKinley spoke over 100 years ago from his home during his re-election campaign.
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