They agreed on a budget, but Illinois lawmakers left the capital in Springfield on Saturday night without addressing one of the most contentious issues of the record-breaking overtime session: medical malpractice.
Doctors, hospitals and trial lawyers, arguing that the skyrocketing cost of medical malpractice insurance was driving physicians to close their practices, had lobbied heavily for legislative action. But their proposals conflicted, and lawmakers couldn't agree on a single plan.
Doctors and insurers supported placing caps on noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, that victims can win in court. Advocates said it would help lower doctors' insurance costs and prevent doctors from leaving for other states that have such caps, but trial lawyers vehemently opposed it.
Another proposal would have increased state regulation of doctors and strengthened some rules to discourage frivolous lawsuits, but it failed to win enough support.
"Let me assure you, we're not done with the issue of medical malpractice," Gov. Rod Blagojevich said at an evening news conference after the budget was approved Saturday night and the Legislature had adjourned for the session.
Blagojevich said he would make a decision in 10 days or so on whether to call lawmakers back into special session to deal with medical malpractice reform.
The state Senate approved one reform plan in late May, but that and other ideas fell by the wayside in the House as trial lawyers, doctors, hospitals and insurers battled over the measures. A plan backed by trial lawyers appeared headed for a vote this weekend in the House, but Democratic leaders said opposition from doctors meant there wouldn't be enough support for the plan to pass.
Republicans blamed trial lawyers and Democrats for stalling any substantial measures; Democrats said all sides' refusal to budge was the problem, and patients would suffer for it.
"They've been tough negotiations because everybody's pretty well entrenched," said Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), "but I think we need to get past looking at this as doctors vs. lawyers and realize that the real party at issue here is patients."