Doesn’t quality medical care still matter?

By Tom Keefe

I have always admired this newspaper’s consistent support for access to quality medical care. A little over 10 years ago, there was considerable consternation over the “exodus of doctors from Illinois.” Implicit in that concern was the right of all Illinois citizens to first-rate medical care.

You published editorials in March and July of 2004 essentially predicting a health care wasteland unless jury verdicts were capped. “The lack of caps in Illinois is a big part of the reason medical malpractice rates have skyrocketed in Illinois to the point that doctors are leaving the state to practice elsewhere.” (Editorial, July 10, 2004); and, on March 28, you declared that you “remain convinced that tort reform is the best way to curb excessive malpractice settlements and to keep ... doctors from leaving the metro-east.” You even commended state Sen. Frank Watson for insisting a malpractice bill be a condition of a budget deal.

Eleven years later, we don’t have caps, but we have two new hospitals under construction in St. Clair County, and BJC is coming across the river to partner with Memorial Hospital (they already partner with Alton Memorial Hospital — one of six hospitals in Madison County).

By the way, Missouri has caps, and in the supremest of ironies, the Texas Medical Association, home to the nation’s most draconian “tort reform” laws, proclaims “Texas needs more physicians,” noting they rank 45th in the nation in the number of physicians per population.

Last Sunday, you criticized state Sen. Bill Haine for killing a tort reform bill and workers’ comp “reform,” and BND cartoonist Glenn McCoy actually drew a clever cartoon depicting the senator in a lawyer’s back pocket. “Catering to the lawyers is also the reason why Illinois workers’ comp costs are among the highest in the nation.” (Editorial, May 31). And, in a deja vu moment, the governor is lauded for holding the budget hostage unless he gets his business agenda, which includes union busting.

But the loudest opponents of this so-called workers’ comp reform aren’t the lawyers — it’s the doctors and the hospitals. His “reform” bill takes dead aim at the fees doctors and hospitals are paid. He claims our doctors’ and hospitals’ reimbursements are among the highest in the nation and should be slashed by 30 percent (on top of the 30 percent cut these same health care providers absorbed in 2011).

The Illinois State Medical Society warned that Gov. Bruce Rauner’s bill “would impact a worker’s ability to see a doctor for treatment of their workplace injury,” and the Illinois Hospital Association warned “injured workers” would “lose access to the best and most appropriate care they need,” and “doctors and hospitals will simply turn away patients” if this pro-business agenda is passed.

If access to quality medical care was important in 2004, then so it should be in 2015. Opposing laws that block that access should be applauded, not condemned.

Just because lawyers oppose caps, that doesn’t make caps good policy. Just because lawyers and unions oppose right-to-work laws, that doesn’t make them good policy. Just because lawyers and doctors oppose workers’ comp reform, that doesn’t make it a good law. But a governor holding a budget hostage unless he gets his way does sound like Rauner is the problem.

Tom Keefe is a partner with Keefe & Keefe, P.C. , located in Swansea.