Survey Reports Tenn. Residents Feel Access to Care in Danger Without Medical Liability Reform

December 10, 2004

Tennessee residents believe access to physicians and certain health-care services are at risk unless the General Assembly acts to reform the state’s medical liability statutes, a new survey reveals.

Seventy-two percent of Tennessee residents believe doctors in the state have stopped practicing medicine or reduced services because of the cost of medical liability insurance, according to a statewide survey of nearly 1,000 residents conducted by Prince Market Research.

Nearly all Tennesseans believe that the array of malpractice lawsuits is further jeopardizing quality health-care delivery, according to the survey commissioned by the Tennessee Medical Association. Ninety-four percent of the respondents state that they believe doctors are quitting practice or reducing service to “some or a great” extent due to malpractice lawsuits.

“Access to quality health-care services is at risk as long as Tennessee physicians continue to face the constant threat of lawsuits. This is a trend that we have seen in other states and have been following here in Tennessee, and reforming our medical liability statutes is the only cure to prevent an access crisis,” said Dr. John Ingram, president of the Tennessee Medical Association. Ingram is an internist from Maryville.

The TMA president stated that Tennessee consumers are growing more concerned about the issue of medical liability reform and how it might affect delivery of services and access to care. Among those surveyed, 57 percent stated medical liability reform is a greater issue of concern today than two years ago. “We have the support of a majority of Tennesseans in the critical reform issues, and I believe our concerns are being echoed by patients and our solutions are gaining support based on the survey results,” said Ingram.

The Prince Market Research survey found seven out of 10 Tennessee consumers say jury awards in malpractice trials should be limited if doctors here have to start limiting their services. More than one-half of Tennesseans think that jury awards in this country are too large, and trial lawyers receive too much of a jury settlement with 74 percent stating the lawyer’s percentage should be less than 33 percent of the award, and 33 percent of those surveyed said that lawyers should get 10 percent or less of a jury award.

Ingram is urging the General Assembly to pass legislation that would cap non-economic damages (known as pain and suffering) at $250,000 and change the lawyer’s fee from one-third of the amount awarded for non-economic damages to a sliding scale that drops as the damage award increases.

“As physicians who are dedicated to the well-being of Tennessee citizens, we remain very concerned about these issues and find some satisfaction that the majority of Tennesseans agree with us. We must act now to make reasonable reforms and help ensure access to quality health care for Tennessee citizen,” added Ingram.

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