The speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, John Gard, has appointed a task force to study the state's medical malpractice laws and options for heading off any problems stemming from the state Supreme Court's ruling last month declaring Wisconsin's caps on noneconomic damages unconstitutional. The panel will have five legislative members and five public members, including two attorneys, a physician and two healthcare executives.
"Wisconsin was a nationwide model for medical malpractice reform," Gard, a Republican, said. "That law made us a destination state for good doctors. We will work hard to regain that title."
Wisconsin Medical Society spokesman Steve Busalacchi said his organization's preference would be to bring back a cap that passes the court's constitutionality test. Until then, he said, Wisconsin's medical community would be marked by uncertainty.
"It's too early to say what the effects of the court's ruling will be," he said. "But right now, we have a lot of scared doctors who are concerned about what could happen."
He added that double-digit percentage increases in medical liability insurance premiums are expected in January.
Meanwhile, in a recent rare turnabout, West Virginia's two largest medical malpractice insurers are asking the state's Insurance Commission for permission to reduce their rates.
The board of not-for-profit West Virginia Physicians' Mutual Insurance Co., the largest medical malpractice insurer in the state, voted Aug. 11 to seek a 5% rate reduction, effective Jan. 1, 2006, according to President David Rader. Woodbrook Casualty Insurance, the state's largest private malpractice insurer, is asking for a 3.9% decrease, effective Oct. 20.
The number of malpractice lawsuits has declined since the state Legislature changed laws regarding medical malpractice lawsuits, starting in 2001, said Bill Kenney, deputy insurance commissioner.
Rader said his company also is aggressively working with injured patients to try to prevent lawsuits. For example, it is encouraging physicians to apologize for mistakes and offering to pay for certain costs for injured patients immediately, no questions asked.
'Wisconsin was a nationwide model for medical malpractice reform. That law made us a destination state for good doctors. We will work hard
to regain that title.'--John Gard, Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)