Okla. Doctor says Legislators can go to Texas for Care

May 14, 2007

An Oklahoma surgeon said he will not treat legislators who voted against a bill to curb malpractice insurance rates and suggested they go to Texas for surgical procedures.

Unless it is an emergency, Dr. Peter S. Hedberg said he will “never again accept anyone as a patient who has voted against lawsuit reform. They can go to Texas for their surgery, where doctors are not victimized by the malpractice lawyers.”

“This might give them a sense of what it is like not to have easy access to care,” he said.

“I will also never again be the ‘doctor of the day,’ providing free medical care for the legislators at the Capitol until we get lawsuit reform in Oklahoma.”

He called on state medical groups to cancel “that unctuous program” and urged other Oklahoma doctors to “join with me in denying effortless medical care to the legislators.”

Hedberg practices in Durant, a southeastern Oklahoma city of about 15,000 located near the Texas line.

In a letter, he singled out Rep. John Carey and Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, Durant Democrats, for voting against the bill. He also accused Democratic Gov. Brad Henry of going back on his word by vetoing a bill to limit lawsuit awards.

Hedberg is a native of Boston and taught surgery at Harvard Medical School. He said malpractice insurance now cost him $72,000 a year and his rates have twice doubled in recent years.

“Spending $72,000 every year is a lot of money. I could buy a nice big boat for that,” he told The Associated Press.

He said his insurance rates are “pretty close to doubling again” and he might move to Texas if that happens. He said Texas had stabilized its rates because of legislation enacted three years ago.

“I could move to Texas very easily. They are building a nice new hospital across the river. I could commute.” He was referring to a hospital in Denison, Texas, about 20 miles south of Durant.

“I think it is probably fair to say that at this point it is good that he is not my doctor, nor does he treat any member of my family,” Gumm said.

“I don’t really have a comment – I think the letter speaks for itself,” Carey said.

Both Carey and Gumm said they have voted for civil justice reform in the past and wanted to do something to curtail lawsuits against businesses and doctors.

But they said the bill vetoed by Henry went too far in sacrificing the rights of injured people.

The bill, which passed the Senate, 25-23, placed a $300,000 “hard cap” on pain-and-suffering awards. Twenty-four Republicans and one Democrat voted for the bill, while 23 Democrats opposed it.

In his veto message, Henry said parts of the bill were unconstitutional and restricted the ability of citizens to seek justice through the court system.

He said he would work with sponsors of the bill on a compromise, but Republican leaders have said it is doubtful an agreement can be reached before the Legislature shuts down by May 25.

Gumm said a solution is possible if politics were not a factor. “Both sides are using this as a political wedge to try to raise money from their base,” he said.

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