Fla. Businesses Call for End to Med. Liability Crisis

April 8, 2003

Nearly 30 of the Jacksonville area’s top businesses are calling on their local state senator, Senate President Jim King, and his colleagues to fix Florida’s broken medical liability system before they adjourn May 2.
The businesses ran a full-page letter to King and other senators in Sunday’s Florida Times-Union calling upon them to “pass a comprehensive solution to Florida’s medical liability crisis, including a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages.”

In order for Jacksonville and the rest of Florida to maintain a vibrant economy, “we must keep and attract new businesses,” the group’s letter said. “This cannot occur if vital health care services continue to disappear due to explosive insurance premiums and excessive litigation.”

A broad sampling of the Jacksonville area’s most prominent businesses signed the letter to King, including CSX Transportation, Florida Rock Industries, Gate Petroleum Company, Ringhaver Equipment Company, Steinmart, and Wachovia Bank.

Additionally, four the state’s leading business associations — Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation, and the National Federation of Independent Business Florida — representing thousands of companies and millions of Florida workers, joined Jacksonville businesses in calling on King and other senators to act now.

“Senator King knows the integrity of our businesses and associations, and collectively we are saying the Senate must help end this medical liability crisis in 2003,” said Art Simon, Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs for Associated Industries of Florida. “This crisis is driving up healthcare costs for employers and threatening the ability of employees to obtain healthcare services, including those offered in Jacksonville.”

“There is no way to place a lid on rising medical costs, absent a cap on non-economic damages in lawsuits arising from medical care,” Simon added.

Just last week, the North Florida Surgeons, a 20-doctor practice in Jacksonville that serves 20,000 patients in North Florida and South Georgia, announced that it will cease performing surgeries May 2 unless the Legislature fixes the broken medical liability system. The announcement reverberated throughout Jacksonville’s medical and business community because the practice provides 30 percent of the on-call surgeons at hospitals in the Jacksonville area.

On March 21, the Florida House of Representatives passed a comprehensive medical liability reform bill, HB 1713, by a resounding 95-19 vote. The bill includes provisions to enhance patient safety and stabilize the insurance market, and creates new parameters for litigation and for compensating injured patients, including a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages awarded in medical liability cases.

Governor Bush, a task force of university officials, respected actuarial firms, and medical and business groups have endorsed the cap and other provisions in HB 1713. Supporters say a cap will make medical liability losses more predictable, protecting the availability of healthcare services for citizens by lowering premiums for doctors and hospitals. It also will encourage insurers to return to the Florida market.

At the same time, injured patients will still be able to recover unlimited economic damages, such as lost wages, lost earning potential and medical costs.

However, King, R-Jacksonville, has been adamantly opposed to a cap, as have some other senators. While several bills related to the medical liability crisis are traveling in the Senate, it remains unclear whether senators will even consider HB 1713.

“Senators must listen to Jacksonville’s top businesses, because they play an important part in the city’s and state’s economy, and provide health coverage for thousands of Florida citizens,” said Wayne NeSmith, President of the Florida Hospital Association and a leader of the Coalition to Heal Healthcare in Florida.

“Governor Bush, the university task force, and the vast majority of Florida House members have concluded that HB 1713 will help end this crisis,” NeSmith said. “We agree with them. The Senate must now act before the session ends on May 2, or we’re facing a meltdown of critical healthcare services in this state.”

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