Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Number Of Doctors Skyrockets While Number Of Lawsuits Plummets

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The number of doctors in Oklahoma is increasing rapidly despite claims that doctors are leaving the state because of its legal environment.

Oklahoma had 193 physicians per 100,000 people in 2003, according to American Medical Association statistics. By 2007 the ratio had grown to 200 per 100,000 people.

Doctors fleeing Oklahoma is simply a myth.

In 1998 Oklahoma had 6,412 physicians. By 2007 the number had grown to 7,245, an 11.5 percent increase.

The growth in the number of physicians is an obvious sign that things are working well in Oklahoma.

The state’s leading medical malpractice insurer, doctor-owned Physicians Liability Insurance Co., also is doing well. PLICO is in the best financial shape of its three-decade existence.

The real question for the state’s doctors should be why PLICO is posting record profits while the number of lawsuits has fallen. Lawsuits aren’t the problem – insurance companies such as PLICO are.

From 2003-07 medical negligence filings decreased by 29.7 percent in the state’s 13 most populous counties.

A large body of research shows that severely restricting rights does nothing for health care access or quality and doesn’t save doctors money. Caps on damages disproportionately harm the most vulnerable – the poor, the elderly, minorities and children – and states without caps have a greater physician-to-population ratio than those with caps.

Improving health care should include insurance reform and reducing the 100,000 deaths annually from preventable medical errors. These subjects need to be part of the debate.

Quick Facts:

From 2007-08 Oklahoma physicians’ medical malpractice insurance premiums remained flat. Their rates are among the lowest in the region.

Oklahoma medical malpractice insurers’ payments represent far less than 1 percent of health care expenditures in the state. Even if they were eliminated the price of health care wouldn’t change.

Oklahoma doctors spend an average of 1.7 percent of their practice incomes on medical malpractice insurance, 56.4 percent less than the national average.

Physicians Practice magazine has named Oklahoma one of the nation’s most physician-friendly states.

From 2004-07, 10 Oklahoma counties had no medical malpractice lawsuits. Thirty-nine counties – 51 percent of the state’s total – had fewer than five such lawsuits.

Medical malpractice insurance rates are 9.8 percent higher in states with caps than in states without caps.

Just 3.6 percent of Oklahoma doctors have been responsible for 43.4 percent of all medical malpractice payments to patients, yet doctors of the same specialty pay the same insurance rates.

Inflation-adjusted average medical malpractice payments to Oklahomans declined by 16.4 percent from 1996-2003.

Average medical malpractice payments to Oklahomans have decreased by almost $26,000 since 2004 – from $301,123 to $275,151.

STEFFANIE'S LAW NEEDS YOUR HELP

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Unless it clears committee this week, Steffanie’s Law (SB 263) faces a two-year hiatus before it can come up again, courtesy of the GOP’s onerous new rules.

If you agree with the following, please consider calling Sen. Bill Brown (405-521-5602) and asking him to grant Steffanie’s Law a committee hearing or asking someone you know to make a call. The clock is ticking fast.

Steffanie’s Law requires insurance companies to pay for ROUTINE medical care for those who undergo clinical trials. Such care can include laboratory tests, X-rays and doctor visits.

Steffanie’s Law will decrease cancer treatment costs. Clinical trials are the way cancer treatment advances. From them researchers discover new uses for drugs and ways to be more effective. This ultimately brings down treatment costs.

Steffanie’s Law won’t force insurance companies to pay for clinical trials. The institution that offers clinical trials pays for them. All Steffanie’s Law will is force insurance companies to pay for what they already cover under normal circumstances.

Steffanie’s Law won’t increase health insurance costs. Studies have shown routine medical costs don’t differ much between those who are in clinical trials and those who aren’t.

Steffanie’s Law is about fundamental fairness. Insurance companies are denying care for those with cancer despite paying for the same care for those who don’t have the disease.

Lack of insurance coverage is a barrier to participating in clinical trials. We must encourage participation that advances scientific knowledge, not make it impossible for many families.

Once again, it’s insurance companies and their protectors versus sick Oklahomans.  

MAKE A CALL FOR NICK'S LAW

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A bill to require insurance companies to cover autism treatment is on the agenda of the House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee this afternoon.

Call your legislators and tell them that you support Nick’s Law.

Visit www.okwatchdog.org, click on the “Action Alerts” tab and enter your Zip code. You’ll be given the number of your representative’s Capitol office.

Nick’s Law passed the Senate last session but failed in the House, killed by the insurance industry.

Oklahoma legislators need to do what 20 other states have done and cover treatment that can help these children overcome the complex disorder.

The cost to society — in special education classes, bankruptcies, family break-ups, out-of-pocket expenses to parents — is substantial, while doing nothing harms hard-working Oklahoma families and further enriches insurance companies.

If insurance companies had made policyholders’ needs their first priority, Nick’s Law wouldn’t be necessary.

The House leadership opposes Nick’s Law yet wants the state Health Department to train therapists to work with children with autism.

Using taxpayer money to train therapists, whose services most parents can’t afford, is anything but the private-sector solution the GOP claims it is.

Call your legislators and tell them that you support Nick’s Law before the insurance industry kills it again.  

"Judicial Hellholes" Propaganda Continues

( – promoted by OKWatchdog)

In a letter to the editor in The Oklahoman (“A similar fate,” Jan. 21), the American Tort Reform Association continues its assault on Oklahoma’s legal system without a shred of evidence to justify destroying our state’s image.

The letter noticeably sidesteps claims that makers of dangerous drugs, some of the nation’s most tight-fisted insurance companies and, of course, cigarette makers are large contributors to ATRA.

Let’s be absolutely clear: Fabulously wealthy, powerful corporations that abuse their customers and policyholders and stand to gain the most from corporate immunity are ATRA’s biggest backers.

This is why Darren McKinney, the group’s director of communications, refuses to address this head-on, instead calling them “jobs- and tax revenue-generating industries.”

McKinney also calls for figures to refute ATRA’s claim about lawsuits in the state. The group’s annual “Judicial Hellholes” report didn’t concern itself with pesky things like statistics and facts.

Rather than checking to see whether Oklahoma is experiencing growth in class-action lawsuits, “Hellholes” authors relied on rumors that could easily have been verified. Yet McKinney makes no mention of this and instead calls on others to disprove what the report’s authors couldn’t be bothered to check out in the first place.

Sloppiness is the rule for the annual “Hellholes” hatchet job.  

If someone makes a claim about an entire state in a nationally circulated report, it’s their professional, ethical duty to check the accuracy of their assertions.

McKinney’s corporate CEO backers aren’t interested in the truth or doing what’s right. They’re interested in a narrow political agenda to further enrich them and harm ordinary Americans.  

Next time you see or hear something from the ATRA and other corporate immunity supporters, ask yourself if they have ever provided numbers or evidence. As McKinney’s letter shows, they have no intention of doing so.

McKinney concludes by making the ridiculous assertion that Oklahoma will suffer the same fate as West Virginia unless corporate immunity becomes law here.

This thinly veiled threat amounts to no more than public-relations blackmail, but that’s all the “Hellholes” report has ever been about, anyway.  

Jeff Raymond

Executive Director

OKWatchdog

Republicans Propose Corporate Immunity

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Republicans have filed the first of what likely will be a number of corporate immunity bills masquerading as “lawsuit reform” during the upcoming legislative session.

Legislators have filed resolutions to call statewide referenda on capping noneconomic damages and attorney fees, and have filed related legislation to do the same thing.

The resolutions do not require the governor’s signature.

Manufacturers of unsafe products and dangerous drugs, greedy insurance companies that would rather delay and deny claims than pay them, and doctors who routinely harm patients will all be given a free pass.

Although we don’t believe handing a blank check to corporate CEOs and insurance companies is good policy, the people of Oklahoma may have the ultimate say on who runs the courts. It comes down to whether Oklahomans trust politicians or 12 of their neighbors to decide what’s fair when someone is injured or cheated.

Businesses will continue to sue each other for huge amounts, as they regularly do, but average Oklahomans may soon lose that right. This lays bare who really benefits from corporate immunity.

True lawsuit reform would involve greater regulation of the insurance industry and stronger oversight of the medical profession. True lawsuit reform would speed up the legal system and reduce its costs. True lawsuit reform would protect everyone, not just negligent doctors and corporate CEOs.

Caps blatantly discriminate against the elderly, the poor, ethnic minorities, children and stay-at-home mothers. Caps deny justice to the most severely injured – those who most need it and most deserve it.

Contingency fees are an essential, misunderstood part of protecting ordinary Oklahomans.

Finding an attorney to take a case on contingency is the only way the injured and cheated can afford to stand up to those with nearly unlimited resources and a refusal to admit wrongdoing.

Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, who works as a defense attorney and has filed fee-cap legislation, will no doubt continue to charge whatever he sees fit while denying that right to other members of his profession.  Corporations will continue to pay untold sums to their legal teams.

Capping damages and attorney fees is an affront to the free market and fundamental fairness. Insurance companies and corporations will benefit. Taxpayers will foot the bill.

Caps are a solution in search of a problem.

Jeff Raymond

OKWatchdog

From Saturday's Oklahoman

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List more vendetta than anything else

POINT OF VIEW ‘Judicial Hellholes’

BY JEFF RAYMOND

Published: January 10, 2009

The American Tort Reform Foundation’s annual “Judicial Hellholes” list ought to be called a vendetta rather than a report.

As national media and researchers have pointed out, “Hellholes” has no methodology other than the whims of a group whose backers include tobacco companies, makers of defective products and dangerous drugs, and insurance companies that would rather pad their pockets than pay legitimate claims.

As an “area to watch,” according to this year’s edition, Oklahoma has “characteristics consistent with Judicial Hellholes.” What exactly those characteristics are is anyone’s guess – no other report receives such repeated, widespread coverage with so little attention paid to how the authors arrive at their conclusions.

This year’s edition suggests Oklahoma is on a downward spiral because of reports of an increase in class-action lawsuits and judges with reputations for allowing them. This is one step removed from gossip and hardly the basis for disparaging an entire state – especially when ATRF could easily have checked out these rumors.

“Hellholes” also rips Oklahoma for two state Supreme Court rulings whose effect on lawsuits so far has been negligible.

From 2003-07, a period during which the Affordable Access to Health Care Act of 2003 was in effect and later invalidated, medical negligence filings in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties averaged 3.2 and 2.6 percent, respectively, of civil filings in the two jurisdictions.

“Hellholes'” sloppiness has been problematic elsewhere. Counties – even an entire state – have experienced the opposite of what ATRF has alleged. West Virginia has topped the list or hovered nearby in recent years despite its absence in 2002 and record of capping damages in medical malpractice cases, revamping its workers compensation system and enacting other ATRF-supported measures. Yet West Virginia can’t seem to remove itself from the bull’s-eye.

Moreover, the state fared poorly in 2005 because of a large lawsuit that turned out not to have even been filed there. An online search easily could have cleared that up, should ATRF have been interested in checking.

Madison County, Ill., was anything but the medical malpractice and class-action haven the report has made it out to be: The Associated Press and local media discovered that the county had seen a large drop in asbestos and class-action litigation and only four medical malpractice and wrongful death verdicts in plaintiffs’ favor from 1996-2003.

As West Virginia’s and Madison County’s treatment has shown, ATRF won’t be happy until our courtrooms are shut to all but the wealthiest, most powerful among us.

Raymond is executive director of OKWatchdog.org, a consumer and patient advocacy group.

IT'S TIME TO DISCLOSE TIES BETWEEN DOCTORS AND DRUG COMPANIES

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma’s medical schools should publicly disclose physicians and biomedical researchers’ ties with the pharmaceutical, medical?device and biotechnology industries.

Cleveland Clinic and the University of Pennsylvania last month announced they would publicly disclose physicians and biomedical researchers’ industry ties.

Also, a voluntary, industry?initiated ban on gifts to physicians took effect Jan. 1. It prohibits branded gifts such as pens and coffee mugs and puts an end to expensive dinners.

The American Medical Student Association praised the ban but called for greater oversight. OKWatchdog also applauded the ban but joined the medical student association in calling for required disclosure.

“We hope this will mark the beginning of greater transparency regarding how drug companies attempt to influence doctors’ work,” said Jeff Raymond, executive director of the Oklahoma City?based nonprofit. “Drug companies’ most egregious practices, however, look to continue. The industry cannot be trusted to self?regulate.”

Handing out free samples; paying doctors to serve as consultants, conduct research and extol specific drugs; and plying doctors’ staffs with free lunches are not covered under the guidelines.

In 2004 the New America Foundation reported that only one?quarter of universities require their researchers to report conflicts of interest-a minimum of disclosure. “Disclosure doesn’t have to be forced on institutions; they would be

better served by voluntarily detailing their industry ties,” Raymond said.

The University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine received respective grades of “D” and “F” for their conflict?of?interest policies on the medical student association’s 2008

PharmFree Scorecard.

Oklahoma State University does not have policies relevant to the scorecard, while the University of Oklahoma’s policies are strong in some places but could be improved in others.

In fiscal year 2006, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center received $27 million in research funds from drug companies, according to news reports.

“Our state’s medical colleges are saying, essentially, ‘Trust us.’ That’s not good enough when patients’ lives are at stake,” Raymond said, citing the confidential nature of conflict?of?interest oversight.

www.amsascorecard.org/institutions/9, www.pharmfree.org, www.amsascorecard.org/institutions/134

www.okwatchdog.org