Letters To The Editor


January 31, 2003

Damage awards create a crisis for medicine

The American Medical Association (AMA) would like to clarify a few things for Molly Ivins ("Politics block cure for crisis," Opinion * Commentary, Jan. 23).

When pregnant women cannot find an ob-gyn to provide prenatal care or deliver their babies because of the threat of lawsuits and skyrocketing liability insurance costs, the AMA considers that a crisis.

When physicians who have trained for decades give up their lives' work, that is a crisis. When trauma centers and rural health clinics are forced to close their doors, and patients lose the "golden hour" necessary to save lives, the AMA considers that a crisis as well (as any reasonable individual should).

The AMA also strongly believes that if a physician deserves to be disciplined for medical errors, the state medical board should do so promptly and efficiently, with due process.

But don't be misled by the trial lawyers, who try to tell us that the liability crisis is caused by a small percentage of bad doctors. Research demonstrates that it is the severity of a patient's disability, not a physician's negligence, that correlates with money paid to plaintiffs.

Anyone in America can file a lawsuit for any reason. Ob-gyns, in fact, are sued an average of 2.5 times in their career. Does that make them bad doctors? And if trial lawyers aren't filing meritless lawsuits, why are 70 percent to 80 percent of these lawsuits closed with no payment?

Clearly, the current system is sick and in need of a cure. The AMA supports medical liability reforms based on the reforms in California that have worked for more than 25 years.

We need to put common sense back in the nation's courtrooms. Who will care for our patients if our doctors continue to disappear?

Dr. Donald J. Palmisano


The writer is president-elect of the American Medical Association.

Limiting awards only hurts victims

Suppose I wanted to cut off both your legs for medical research and offered you $14 a day to compensate you for the inconvenience of spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Sound fair to you?

Apparently, it does to President Bush. Because under his medical malpractice plan, nobody could collect more than $250,000 for the emotional anguish (known as "pain and suffering") that a doctor's negligence inflicts on him or her ("President calls for law limiting medical malpractice awards," Jan. 17). Two hundred fifty thousand dollars may sound like a lot, but if the victim lives 50 years after the negligence, that's less than $14 a day (without considering the impact of inflation).

That wouldn't make me feel compensated for facing each day as a person who had been maimed or, still less, for the death of a child or spouse.

In our system, juries consider whether someone has been negligent and, if so, try to compensate the victim. When President Bush tries to change this system, he's helping his benefactors at the big insurance companies - not the patients and victims.

Matthew A. Feigin


Smaller bonus is no hardship

Oh my gosh: The picture of CareFirst CEO William L. Jews with his head in his hands was so disturbing ("New CareFirst proposal trims bonus, adds $70 million to bid," Jan. 22). Why, I could barely read the article for the tears flooding my eyes.

Seriously, am I supposed to feel sorry for him because he will receive "only" $13.6 million under the new CareFirst proposal? Most people will never earn a minuscule portion of that amount in their entire lives.

Gail Householder


Big gift to Gilman does little for city

After reading Kate Shatzkin's article "A Baltimore-bred benefactor has his eye, and money, on city" (Jan. 21), I was left with the impression that she was trying to portray William Polk Carey's $10 million gift to Gilman School as beneficial to Baltimore.

But it is hard to believe that this transfer of money to a private school helps Baltimore's 650,000 residents, especially when the public school system is in the midst of a $31 million deficit crisis, has laid off essential part-time employees and is talking about furloughs and increasing class sizes.

A true investment in the educational foundation of the city should benefit the city's 100,000 public school students, not just the 800 students at Gilman School.

Daniel Poling


Disgraced banker can't clear the air

Regarding Michael Olesker's column "Rusnak clearing the air in Allfirst scandal" (Jan. 23), I think John N. Rusnak has a very narcissistic and grandiose opinion of himself. He cleared no air and shows no remorse. The repercussions of his actions are unending.

The first seven employees the bank fired after the scandal were sacrificial lambs to appease the bank and its customers. These were loyal, dedicated people who were employed with Allfirst for more than 20 years. Their ethics, integrity and reputations were impugned.

Now even more employees are to be let go by the bank, but at least they'll get some type of severance package.

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