Canton Repository

December 16, 2004

Area women back tort reform plan

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Even though she knows most of the doctors in the area, Aundria D. Kazar of North Canton is having a tough time finding an obstetrician to deliver her baby, she told President Bush on Wednesday.

“I know most of the physicians in town because of working in medicine for so long,” said Kazar, an office manager at Generations Women’s Healthcare in Akron. “I don’t know how the normal average person who doesn’t can go and say, ‘OK, how do I pick this doctor?’ ”

Kazar and Dr. Barbara Coen of Norton, a gynecologist at the clinic, shared their views on health care with Bush as part of a White House-sponsored discussion on tort reform.

Others at the conference, including a Yale University professor, a corporate executive and the owner of a small business, said the high costs of litigation have put firms out of business, stifled economic growth and increased the prices of products and services.

Kazar and Coen reiterated concerns they raised with the president when he made a campaign stop in Canton in October.

Bush has vowed to make tort reform a priority in a second term. Last year, the president supported a plan that would have limited malpractice awards. The Senate blocked the plan after the House approved it.

The Association of Trial Lawyers of America, a prominent foe of tort reform, countered that Bush’s plan “is yet another giveaway to the insurance, drug, HMO and nursing-home industries.”

Kazar and Coen agree with Bush that high malpractice insurance premiums, brought about by profligate litigation, are driving obstetricians out of business and depriving patients of medical care.

“I am an obstetrician-gynecologist who can no longer call herself an obstetrician,” Coen told Bush. She gave up delivering babies a year ago when her annual insurance premium rose from $60,000 to $118,000 after she severed her affiliation with a hospital, she said.

Kazar described her dismay when she realized that Coen and her physician partner would not be able to deliver her child.

Since talking with Bush last year, Kazar found a midwife.

“But we were informed on Friday that the physician that backs her may not be continuing to practice,” Kazar said.

“So now, again, at 32 weeks pregnant, we are now on the lookout for another provider of service. And I don’t feel that anyone should have to go through this,” she added.

Coen complained to Bush that attorneys should be held to the same standards as physicians.

Claiming that 80 percent of lawsuits against physicians are thrown out of court, Coen said, “What if I was only right 20 percent of the time? ... I think we need to hold these people to a higher standard, the same standard that physicians are held to.”

Bush said the existing legal system causes doctors to practice “defensive” medicine, ordering unnecessary tests “in order to make a defense when they get sued — not if they get sued, but when. The odds are they’ll be sued. And it costs the federal budget about $27 billion a year,” he said.

Bush renewed his call for the Senate to approve malpractice award caps, “because these lawsuits are driving really fine, competent people out of the practice of medicine — like Barb — which makes medicine less accessible.”

“I am passionate on the subject because I want America to be the best place in the world for people to find work or to raise their family or to get good health care,” he said.

The trial lawyers association countered that lawsuit-related costs amount to only half of 1 percent of health-care costs.

“The president’s plan fails to do anything about the 99 percent of health-care costs that are really out of control — escalating drug costs, which account for 11 percent, outrageous hospital bills, and record insurance profits that increased 1,000 percent last year,” association president Todd A. Smith said in the statement.

Bush thanked Kazar and Coen “for joining us again. I met them first in Canton, Ohio,” he said. “They were just as articulate there as they are here, and their case is, unfortunately, one that’s being repeated in many states around this nation.”