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Illinois Holds the Infamous Distinction of "Judicial Hellhole"


Location: Washington, DC

Illinois Holds the Infamous Distinction of "Judicial Hellhole"

By: Rep. Peter Roskam

According to the American Tort Reform Association, Illinois is labeled a crisis state for having three of the top six "Judicial Hellholes" in the nation: Cook County (No. 4), Madison County (No. 5), and St. Clair County (No. 6). "Judicial Hellholes" are places where judges rule disproportionately on the side of plaintiffs.

The way this impacts you and me is that excessive and meritless lawsuits are a major cause for rising health care costs. Unfortunately, these increased costs have the ill effect of forcing good doctors out of the state. In some cases, baseless suits are being filed against hospitals and doctors in places like Illinois knowing that the medical liability system is tilted in their favor. Subsequently, jury awards in medical liability cases have skyrocketed in recent years.

Lawsuits are expensive to fight. For your family physicians and safety net hospitals these frivolous lawsuits mean more than just a bad day in court. Statistics show that over 75 percent of all medical malpractice suits are closed with no payment to the plaintiff. Unfortunately, even if no money is paid out in these cases, they still cost money to our health care system. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), the average defense cost for medical liability cases average $94,000. This price tag drives up your physicians' insurance premium, even if they have never faced a claim. When these insurance premiums rise, doctors have no choice but to pass some of the costs onto their patients to ensure their business can remain open. This means we all at one time have paid a portion of a frivolous lawsuit, though we were only seeking medical care.

So what happens in this high cost situation you may ask? A scary figure for any family to hear is that nearly half of America's counties lack an OB-GYN. Even more startling, each year, medical liability lawsuits are filed against 50 percent of neurosurgeons and nearly 25 percent of the nation's ER physicians. Specialists in high-risk practices are especially vulnerable to lawsuits in states like Illinois. Many doctors are forced to close their practices or move to a state with more sensible judicial environment.

Negligent physicians and health care facilities should be held accountable for their actions. However, the outrageous medical liability system has caused the unintended effect of closing the offices of excellent physicians whom provide you and your family with high quality care. Should they be punished for the bad apples in the profession? More importantly, should your family suffer?

Negligent physicians should be dealt with fully by the law. However, we must act to stop frivolous lawsuits that enrich lawyers at the expense of your family's health. I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2007. This legislation sets forth provisions regulating lawsuits for health care liability claims.

The HEALTH Act sets a cap on non-economic damages at $250,000 while establishing a nationwide statute of limitations for claims at three years. Nothing in this legislation limits the recovery of economic damages. This legislation also allows states to set their own standards for non-economic damages as long as the state law provides greater protections for health care providers or organizations.

Having practiced law in Illinois, I believe that comprehensive lawsuit reform is essential to quality, affordable health care. I actively fought for lawsuit reform in the Illinois General Assembly, helping to keep doctors in Illinois and make health care more affordable.

Junk lawsuits harm the health care system, drive family doctors out of practice and increase insurance costs while passing the majority of costs on to you, the consumer. I strongly believe it is imperative Congress acts now to reform our tort reform system, before it's too late.

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