Gov. Haley Barbour may be getting more than he bargained for in the 2004 Extraordinary Session he called to wrangle the House of Representatives into accepting his versions of tort reform and voter ID. A coalition of legislators, consumer advocates, civil rights organizations and everyday people gathered this morning at the Capitol to call for insurance reform in the state of Mississippi—a first for the Magnolia State. Rep. Jaimie Franks, D-Tupelo, organized the press conference to call for legislation to roll all insurance rates—not just medical malpractice—back to 2001 levels. Franks said that insurance companies saw nearly $30 billion in profits in 2003, and have no intention of lowering rates, whether or not the Legislature gives Barbour his non-economic damage caps—the sticking point in the special session. Franks wants Mississippi to follow the lead of states like California and Missouri, which have regulated insurance companies to ensure that doctors, small businesses and everyday citizens aren't bilked by exploding rates.
Rep. Jim Evans, D-Hinds, pointed to the "price-gouging insurance companies of the United States of America," saying that insurance reform is the "first step in the right direction that is consumer-friendly." He added: "We asked the citizens, the taxpayers and the press of the state to finally focus on who is causing the problem." He called the Senate's tort-reform demands to limit the non-economic damage caps paid by businesses or doctors who harm consumers "greed on steriods."
Franks emphasized that he had voted in the 2002 special session to limit medical malpractice non-economic damages to the current $500,000, but emphasized that the governor and the Senate are now trying to go too far. In a so-called "concession" bill that the Senate is trying to use to "replace" a tort reform bill passed by the House last week—with a menu of tort reforms businesses want, but no damage caps—the Senate has raised medical malpractice caps back to $500,000, instead of $250,000, but is now trying to take away exemptions for the most egregious, debilitating and disfiguring results of medical negligence.
Kathie Walker, a grandmother who is now confined to a wheelchair after a UMC neurologist dropped a ratchet into her neck during surgery three years ago, attended the press conference to call for insurance reforms and oppose the "pain and suffering caps" that industry wants. "How can you possibly say an insurance company is worth more than a human life?" she asked after the press conference as her two granddaughters crawled over her. She added: "This is not about the insurance companies; it's about the people and big insurance companies that are greedy as hell."
When asked if there is anything in his proposal that would help appease concerns of Mississippians who say they are worried about "lawsuit abuse," Franks said consumers are indeed "expressing concerns that they think tort reform will cure." But, he said, evidence from other states shows that damage caps do not relieve those concerns.
Interestingly, right now on the conservative Magnolia Report, an online poll is showing that a plurality of those who have voted in this very unofficial survey (41.02 percent) want no damage caps. But nearly 40 percent want $250,000 caps and 17.5 percent want $500,000 caps. You can look at that a number of ways: nearly 60 percent do not want Barbour's $250,000 caps, or that nearly 60 percent want at least $500,000 caps. Either way, it's a rather remarkable result for a site that polls so Republican. Also, note that like Barbour and most corporate media in the state, the site does not distinguish between medical malpractice caps and general liability -- even though they're radically different.
Barbour's office sent the following "call to arms" out to supporters last night [verbatim]:
From: GovernorsCommunicationsOffice GovernorsCommunicationsOffice
Sent: Monday, May 24, 2004 8:14 PM
Subject: Action Alert from the Governor * Contains Links * Please
We are in the 4th day of the Special Session of the Legislature I called to address the rampant lawsuit abuse in Mississippi that is costing us jobs and causing doctors to leave our state.
Polls show that 85% of Mississippians see lawsuit abuse as a problem, so much so that the Senate has repeatedly passed comprehensive tort reform this year. However, House members have not yet been allowed to vote on real tort reform with the strong provisions needed to fix our legal system.
Using this link http://www.governorbarbour.com/House.htm, contact your Representative right now and ask him or her to vote "no" on going to conference and extending the session and to vote "yes" on the bill the Senate is sending back to the House, House Bill 4, which is the Jeff Smith / Jim Simpson bill. This bill had 60 co-authors in the House, and it is the only available bill that will truly end lawsuit abuse in Mississippi and put us on a road to attracting much-needed jobs and doctors to Mississippi.
We need to get effective tort reform enacted now and let the Legislature go home Wednesday.
P.S. If you don't know who your Representative is, look in this link http://www.governorbarbour.com/House.htm for the Representative's
Barbour is referring to the replacement bill that the Senate passed yesterday; we will explain it more in this week's cover story, which will be posted this afternoon. It is not a consumer-friendly bill at all, and actually adds back in exemptions allowed in the last special session for people with severe disfigurement; now they also will be capped at $500,000 "pain and suffering" damages should this bill pass.
The Senate is presenting this bill as a "compromise" and actually adopted it as a "strike all" yesterday -- voting to replace the bill the House passed last week (what some folks might call an act of hubris). Today at 3 p.m., the House will reconvene and there may be a motion to concur with the Senate's replacement bill -- but usually the speaker would only recognize the chairman of the committee that presented the bill being replaced. That is Rep. Ed Blackmon who has stated so far unequivocably that he will accept no bill that contains pain-and-suffering caps.
The chess game continues ...
Here's all of The Clarion-Ledger's coverage of yesterday's historic call for insurance reform today (from the bottom of a bigger piece):
Also Tuesday, Rep. Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville, and other lawmakers urged Barbour to expand the special session to include insurance reform.
"Thousands of Mississippians can't afford insurance coverage,'' he said. "Insurance company profits are unreasonable.''
Smith said the governor won't add insurance reform.
Here's AP's coverage of the call for insurance reform:
"The other news conference was held by groups calling for caps on insurance rates. It was attended by trial lawyers, retirees and union members."
What is up with Mississippi media?
How do other states/media react to the idea of insurance reform? A few examples:
Kansas City Star editorial:
Springfield (Missouri) Business Journal:
Insurance reform may be medical malpractice solution
Kansas City Business Journal
Here's the full statement by Missouri Gov. Holden, vetoing tort reform because it didn't have insurance reform as part of the package:
Today, I am announcing that I have vetoed HB 1304. I have made clear my objections to this bill in the past, yet the legislature has sent me a bill they knew I would not be willing to sign, rather than sending me legislation that would meaningfully addre ss the costs of malpractice insurance for physicians.
The bill sent to my desk ignores the need for insurance reform and uses the special needs of doctors as camouflage to give unwarranted protections to corporate interests at the expense of inju red workers as well as men, women and children who are victimized by dangerous products.
So while I recognize and support litigation restrictions that address the special needs of physicians, I do not endorse inappropriately tilting the scales of justice in a manner that would pro vide advantages to large corporations at the expense of the injured party.
I urge the legislature to immediately begin work on legislation that incorporates the many areas of agreement on needed protections for physicians. That bill should include: caps on non-econ omic damages; reversal of the Scott Decision, the case which allows multiple caps for non-economic damages; Affidavits of Merit from a physician licensed and practicing in a similar specialty; and increased Medicaid payments for ob/gyns.
But most importantly, if we are to address the real solution, the legislature should send me a bill that includes insurance reform, which is the most effective way to reduce physician insuranc e rates.
At a time when insurance profits are at record levels, it is beyond me why the legislature would fail to include meaningful insurance reform.
At a time when the top three Med Mal insurance companies in Missouri have posted profits totaling $60 million; have benefited from record low payouts and have increased their premiums to Misso uri doctors by as much as 100 percent, it is wrong to send me a bill that further increases profits for insurance companies at the expense of our doctors.
So instead of repeatedly sending me proposals that will not fix the problem and that they know I will veto, I urge the General Assembly to immediately pass legislation that I can sign.
This would demonstrate that they are sincerely interested in solving the malpractice insurance problems for physicians, rather than kicking around a political football.
I will be presenting a bill later today to the legislative leadership which includes the areas of consensus and includes insurance reform measures.
While this proposal is not everything the legislature wants to do, it includes most of the provisions that all parties have negotiated agreement on and if this does not fix the problem, which I believe it will, this matter can be revisited in a future legislative session. They should get to work immediately.
Gov. Bob Holden
I am shocked! Someone is actually showing some sense. Insurance companies supporting a rather extravagant lifestyle (buildings, individual offices, etc...) making $30 Billion in profit a year to support themselves, all the while the quality and cost of healthcare sees significant and increasing challenges each year. Finally someone is asking if the insurance industry and tort reform in other states is in line with its costs. Is insurance lower in states with tort reform ? No.
Caps allow the insurance industry to maintain a steady increase in their profits each year. When half of one's income goes to providing one's family car insurance, health insurance, dental insurance, theft, fire and maybe flood home insurance. With pushes for higher deductables each year, and the loop holes that exlude things like natural occurances, or a specific item wasnt listed, your declining health, and company policies that automatically refuse claims until you dispute it 3 times.
It all means profits for the insurance companies.
Its good to know that our health care system is so superior to Canada/UK that we can allow such businesses to thrive.
Can we allow any big business to go unchecked and unregulated ?
Who and how are are these businesses being regulated so badly that require caps ?
Seeing as caps are required on all those companies (insurance, healthcare, etc...) it seems these people and companies whose jobs it is to regulate such things should be called into questioned also.