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Con: It won't work, and it's unfair to patients.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Tom Saddoris For The Register-Guard

I nearly had a heart attack when I read the actual language of Measure 35. As a physician, I've been following the medical malpractice issue closely. But I couldn't believe the words "negligence" and "recklessness" are in the measure Oregonians will decide on Nov. 2.

I've examined the campaign material, and I notice the sponsors of this constitutional amendment carefully avoid those two words.

Unfortunately, there's no language in the measure that says insurance rates will go down. No language that says health care will become less expensive. It's clear why the insurance companies support this idea: It limits their expenses when a provider does something negligent or reckless. I just can't believe they would ask Oregonians to change the Constitution to help them generate profits.

The amendment proposes a constitutional limit of $500,000 in noneconomic damages. Cases that get to this level are extremely rare, but they happen. And when you're talking about brain damage, birth defects or loss of sexual function, sometimes $500,000 is not enough.

These are quality-of-life issues. Juries should make those decisions case by case. Measure 35 turns these decisions over to insurance executives using a one-size-fits-all approach.

Let me tell you about Theresa Booth of Pendleton. A few years ago, she gave birth to her second son. The doctor insisted on delivering the baby two months early. But the doctor later admitted under oath that he forgot to check the ultrasound tests, which showed the baby was not full term. As a result of the premature delivery, Theresa's son was born with severe birth defects. The family now faces a lifetime of challenges, heartache and staggering expenses. Who's accountable?

Theresa wanted that decided by a jury. She trusted juries and believed she'd get a fair shake. Just before trial, the insurance company agreed to set up a trust to take care of expenses during the life of her son. Without the hammer of a pending jury trial, it's unlikely the company would have accepted its responsibility.

Sponsors of this amendment claim malpractice rates have created an exodus of doctors from Oregon, causing a ``crisis.'' That's just not true. In fact, a study out this year - based on data from the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners - found the number of Oregon doctors actually increased 11 percent between 2000 and 2004.

Sponsors also claim rural doctors are leaving. Again, not true. Last year, the Legislature created a new fund to help rural doctors pay their malpractice premiums. The fund was set up in January, and two-thirds of rural doctors are now receiving help - up to 80 percent of their premiums are reimbursed. This is an Oregon solution put in place by a Republican Legislature and a Democratic governor. Let's give this a chance before we limit people's rights with a change to the constitution.

I have physician friends in states where limits have passed. Guess what? They don't work. From 1991 to 2002, rates went up 48 percent in states with these limits. Rates also went up in states without limits, but not as much.

We're lucky in Oregon to have so many excellent doctors. But we also have a few bad ones. I know some of them and, frankly, I'm astounded they're still allowed to practice. The National Practitioner Data Bank reports that only 5 percent of physicians are responsible for a majority of medical malpractice cases.

Measure 35 asks Oregonians to limit their rights just to deal with these few doctors. A better way would be shining a light into doctors' secretive backgrounds. It amazes me that you can check the background of a carpenter who's removing dry rot from your bathroom, but you can't review the background of a doctor who's removing your gallbladder.

Oregonians have been down this road before. Four years ago, voters overwhelmingly rejected a similar amendment sponsored by the insurance industry. I hope voters see through this proposal again and send the message that this approach is the wrong solution. Health care in Oregon has many problems, but patients having too many rights is not one of them. On behalf of my patients, I'm voting no on Measure 35.

Tom Saddoris, M.D., ( is a doctor of internal medicine with offices in McMinnville and northeast Portland.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 17, 2004
Previous Article:Measure 35: Should payouts in malpractice cases be capped?
Next Article:GAME REPORT.

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