AMA President Addresses Tort Reform Concerns

The president of the American Medical Association says America's court system is out of control.

Dr. Richard Corlin spoke to several hundred doctors attending a statewide convention in Biloxi. The AMA president says Mississippi is among several key states where the issue of tort reform needs immediate attention.

"It is impacting the quality of care. It is impacting the availability of care. And our patients have got to be made to realize the effect it is having on them."

Dr. Richard Corlin urged Mississippi doctors to work together for tort reform. He says there must be a cap for the pain and suffering portion of lawsuit awards.

"You don't take somebody who is a truck driver and compensate them at Tom Cruise's salary level just because he's a real nice guy. You compensate him for what he really lost to make him whole for lost wages," Dr. Corlin said.

The problem is worsened by a growing shortage of doctors. That's something that never occurred in the 20th century.

"In the first three years of the 21st century, we have developed a physician shortage and it is of growing proportion. It's going to get substantially worse," Dr. Corlin said.

Many of the physicians at the statewide convention serve communities where the insurance issue is driving doctors away.

Dr. Scott Nelson works in the delta town of Cleveland.

"We are seeing physicians leaving our area in droves. Particularly in the areas of obstetrics and specialty care. Surgical specialty care such as general surgery and neuro surgery. In fact, we have lost half the physicians in the Mississippi delta area from providing obstetric care," Dr. Nelson said.

Dr. Carlin used his own practice as an example of how tort reform has worked in California. He's a gastro enterologist who pays $7,700 a year in malpractice insurance. A similar specialist in Florida pays $42,000 a year.

The AMA president says the alternative to tort reform is unacceptable.

"In Wheeling, West Virginia, the neuro surgeons don't pay anything for malpractice insurance. Because there are no neuro surgeons left in Wheeling, West Virginia. They've all moved out of state."

Dr. Corlin says it's important patients realize they ultimately pay the cost of higher malpractice insurance. He suggested that might be more apparent if doctors would attach a separate surcharge to their bills.