On easily one of the most well-vetted issues to come before the Illinois Legislature in recent years, legislators promised for months to do something to help lower doctors' high insurance costs. They didn't. Political gridlock triumphed, even though a budget impasse offered an extra two months for a compromise.
So now it's back to the starting blocks for doctors and sympathetic legislators, who promise the medical malpractice battle won't fade away. They vow to force action on the issue -- through increased pressure on current officials or by electing those who will be more sympathetic.
"We'll keep fighting the good fight," said Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville). "We're not going to give up on this. It's too important of an issue."
The fight began in earnest in January, when Republicans first urged the Democrat-controlled Legislature into taking up the politically charged issue. Even they were skeptical early on of legislators getting involved in the high-stakes debate in an election year.
But the issue gained momentum as public sympathy and outrage grew. Some doctors were paying three or four times as much for their insurance, forcing them to drop their practices and leaving some parts of Illinois without important specialists such as heart or brain surgeons.
So Democrats pledged to come up with a compromise, and after weeks of negotiations several plans emerged in late May.
One idea combined changing some lawsuit rules to cut back on unwarranted lawsuits with increased regulation of insurers and doctors. That idea died in the House amid massive opposition -- trial lawyers said it hurt victims' rights, and the other side complained it didn't do nearly enough to lower insurance costs.
Another idea to cap lawsuit awards for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering of victims -- which doctors and their allies say is the best way to solve the problem -- seemed to have support in the House but died amid opposition from trial lawyers and House Speaker Michael Madigan.
A scaled-back reform plan did get out of the Senate but was never called for a vote in the House. And even though negotiations continued as the session went into overtime in June and July, lawmakers never voted on competing proposals from trial lawyers and doctors that surfaced last week.
There's plenty of blame to go around for the stalemate.
Republicans say Democratic leaders never intended for reform to happen because of their close ties to trial lawyers. Democrats say reform stalled because doctors and insurers couldn't agree on the best solution that would be acceptable to lawmakers.
Some legislators say the issue should be addressed in a special session before lawmakers return for their fall veto session in November, an idea Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says he will consider. Otherwise, they argue the political impasse might never be broken.
"If it doesn't, we're going to be in an endless struggle here, and we can't afford to do that in Illinois," said Rep. John Fritchey, (D-Chicago).