N.H. Doctors to Promote Med-Mal Reform in Early Primary States

July 10, 2003

New Hampshire and Iowa traditionally hold the earliest primary elections of the presidential campaign, and doctors associations in the two states are planning to take advantage of the fact to promote medical malpractice reforms, by urging 2004 presidential candidates to take a stand on the issue.

The New Hampshire Medical Society (NHMS) and the Iowa Medical Society (IMS), which represent physicians in their respective states, and the American Association of Health Plans (AAHP), which represents America’s health plans and health insurance companies, announced a plan to mobilize doctors in the early primary states. Their goal is to “urge presidential candidates to give voters a plan to reform the runaway medical liability system.” The bulletin said the campaign aimed at stopping “the Litigation Lottery” and combating “frivolous lawsuits” as a way of controlling spiraling medical costs.

“Doctors and health plans are working together on solving the liability crisis in health care,” stated AAHP president and CEO Karen Ignagni. “Now it’s time for presidential candidates and Washington policymakers to finish the job.”

Peter Forssell, President of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said if steps are not quickly taken, New Hampshire will soon face a crisis similar to that currently experience by states such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He indicated that “Good doctors already are being driven out of the state — and out of practice — because medical liability costs are out of control. In the end, patients are paying the price. When it comes to a real debate about how the current liability system has driven health care costs higher, the voters deserve more than they have gotten so far.”

Mike Abrams, Executive VP of the Iowa Medical Society, said he would urge doctors in his state to make Iowa, which holds the first presidential nominating contest early next year, a springboard for the presidential debate on medical liability. “The candidates need to take a stand on how to fix the broken medical malpractice system, so that patients can get the accountability they need, without driving costs higher,” Abrams stated.

The groups unveiled a mock “Litigation Lottery” scratch card, which they plan to distribute to thousands of physicians in Iowa and New Hampshire. The cards contain information designed to highlight the costs of medical liability to the health care system, and to the consumers who depend on it. The groups also unveiled a new print ad campaign, with a power ball theme that challenges candidates to “Stop the Game.” The ad is similar to billboards recently placed by AAHP in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire.

The announcement noted that according to a recent survey by the Department of Health and Human Services “states that have enacted limits on non-economic damages in medical lawsuits have about 12 percent more physicians per capita than states without such a cap.”

According to a poll, commissioned by the AAHP, likely primary voters in the two states “believe it is important that candidates’ plans include a provision for ‘making sure that the rules for medical malpractice are reformed.'” The poll also showed that “controlling costs” is the number two health care issue affecting Democrats’ presidential preference, behind “covering the uninsured.” Among Republicans, controlling costs was the top issue likely to affect their vote.

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