With one proposal for dealing with the soaring costs of medical malpractice insurance shot down, the lingering question is whether another plan will have time to surface.
The Illinois House late Thursday rejected a Democratic plan that would have given state regulators more oversight of doctors and insurers, discouraged unmerited lawsuits and offered $50 million in state money to help doctors pay high insurance premiums.
The measure got only 37 of the 60 votes it needed to pass before Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) stopped the vote, a move that could allow him to bring it back later. Seventy-one lawmakers had voted "no."
"Ladies and gentlemen, you saw this year's effort at medical malpractice reform. You won't see another one," Fritchey said afterward. "I think a lot of people are holding their breath for a silver bullet, and you are not going to see that silver bullet."
The Democrats' plan had drawn opposition from both sides in the heated malpractice insurance debate.
Doctors, hospitals and insurers complained it didn't go far enough to corral climbing insurance rates, such as capping damage awards and sending malpractice cases to special courts for review.
Trial lawyers said it went too far in limiting lawsuits by encouraging arbitration in malpractice cases and attempting to tighten rules about filing lawsuits.
Fritchey said the adamant opposition essentially kills any chance of the Legislature offering malpractice insurance help as lawmakers try to wrap up their spring session by a self-imposed May 31 deadline.
There is another medical malpractice bill, backed largely by Republicans and doctors, still pending in a Senate committee, though Democratic lawmakers said they don't expect it to come up for a vote.
"We're losing ... doctors at an alarming rate, and to ignore this and to say, 'Well, here's an attempt at a bill that died, we're done,' is a tragedy," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego).
The Democrats' plan came after weeks of negotiations among powerful lobbying groups forced to compromise as doctors vigorously protest malpractice costs.
In some cases, doctors are paying three or four times more for coverage than they did a year ago, and specialists such as heart surgeons can now be hard to find in pockets of southern Illinois and Chicago's suburbs.
Critics bashed the idea of providing $50 million to help pay insurance costs, with some saying it would do nothing to fix the problem. The money would have come from a half-percent tax increase on health insurance companies, costs that opponents said would have been passed on to individuals and small businesses.
Republicans complained it ignored many of their proposals, including caps on lawsuit awards for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering. Several other states, including Florida, California and Texas, have approved caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.
"It's not what's in this bill that counts," said Rep. Sidney Mathias (R-Buffalo Grove). "It's what's not in this bill that counts."