Will Tort Reform Remedy Doctors' Insurance Woes?

The 2004 special session could have lawmakers asking "is there a doctor in the House?"

The legislature will consider whether to cut the cap on pain and suffering awards in half from $500,000 to $250,000.

The tort reform debate is nothing new in Mississippi.

Not so long ago we brought you stories of how skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums shut down clinics and led some doctors to walk out of hospitals.

A year has brought a lot of changes to Dr. Karen Mullen's office. Her staff has grown with a new full time medical assistant, and the doctor is seeing more patients than ever.

There was a time when the high cost of malpractice insurance almost forced the Woolmarket practice to close.

"I was able to get the medical malpractice insurance through the pool from the state this last year and the year before but it's schedule to finish this April," said Mullen.

"I'm not sure whether I'll be able to get it again next year or whether I'll be able to even afford it."

Although Doctor Mullen believes it will take the national government to permanently remedy to her insurance woes, she says the state could help by reducing lawsuit award limits even more.

"I think that the lower the risk that the insurance company has the more likely that they'll keep the payments low but also be able to even write a policy. There aren't very many insurance policies being written right now in Mississippi so there aren't many options."

She wants a system that's fair to both doctors and patients.

"It seems to be kind of a lottery about who wins and who doesn't. I've seen people get a lot of money for what I don't think to be very bad results, and I've seen other people who should have gotten some money."

Before the state pool, Mullen sold her house and was headed out of Mississippi. What happens between now and April could determine if she can afford to stay.

Lawmakers will also look at the issue of voter identification during the special session.. The first day will cost taxpayers $49,000 and each additional day about $34,000.