ACOG: Wis. Supreme Court Ruling Eliminating Caps for Non-Economic Damages a Problem

July 14, 2005

Thursday’s decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court declaring caps on non-economic damages (pain and suffering) unconstitutional is strikingly myopic and will have devastating effects on physicians and their patients, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), an organization of physicians specializing in women’s health care.

“As a result of Wisconsin’s cap on pain and suffering compensation enacted in 1995, Wisconsin has been largely protected from the medical liability insurance crisis sweeping the country,” said ACOG President-Elect Douglas Laube, MD, from Madison. “Our state has been a relative oasis, unlike neighboring Illinois, where medical liability insurance premiums have soared, forcing many specialists, especially ob-gyns, to leave the state.”

Liability insurance premiums in Wisconsin have remained relatively stable: in 2004, ob-gyns paid slightly more than $23,000 annually for medical liability insurance compared to ob-gyns in parts of neighboring Illinois, where annual premiums rose above $230,000.

According to ACOG, America’s medical liability insurance crisis is hurting the women of this country and hindering timely access to the obstetrician-gynecologists who care for them. Nationally, ob-gyns are giving up delivering babies, curtailing surgical services, or closing their practices. Women cannot get the prenatal and gynecologic care they need, and many pregnant women cannot find doctors to deliver their babies.

With physician shortages, there are also fewer ob-gyns available to provide gynecologic surgery and preventive care. Women lose care that will help protect fertility, end pelvic pain, or detect and treat cancer early. Women travel longer distances to find a doctor, have longer waiting periods for appointments, and have shorter visits once they get there.

“Because of this ruling, Wisconsin is now no longer immune. Health care in Wisconsin will change dramatically for the worse – hurting those most vulnerable living in rural and inner city areas. It’s not just about our specialty — this ruling will hurt other physicians, hospitals, nurses, non- physician health care providers, and nursing homes,” added Laube.

According to Laube, “This decision is incredulous. While the rest of the country is seeking to fix what is broken with our tort system through the enactment of caps, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has thrown them out. This decision will destroy a health care system that has proven to be effective for the people of Wisconsin. We urge the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor Jim Doyle to take immediate steps to correct this untenable situation.”

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