On the high cost of medical care
By By Buddy Bynum / Editor
March 24, 2002
Otherwise good people in two of Mississippi's most distinguished professions medicine and law are in full attack mode over the contentious issue of the rising cost of medical care.
Doctors blame lawyers and a system of civil justice that does not limit monetary damage awards in medical malpractice cases. Doctors claim lawyers are greedy, money-grubbing parasites that are taking their clients for a ride.
Lawyers blame doctors for not wanting to accept responsibility for their mistakes. They paint pharmaceutical companies with the same brush. Lawyers say doctors are greedy, money-grubbing parasites who too often mis-diagnose or mis-treat a patient's condition at inflated costs so they can drive luxury cars and live in expensive homes.
Insurance companies blame huge damage awards for what they see as the additional risk, and higher cost, of insuring doctors against medical malpractice liability.
Lawyers, maybe even a few doctors, say insurance companies are greedy, money-grubbing parasites that are taking everybody for a ride.
The state's trauma care network, a good idea advanced by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and endorsed by the Legislature, is in danger of collapse because physicians in key specialties are leaving Mississippi. For example, one of Meridian's two neurosurgeons is leaving, Greenville has lost anesthesiologists and a group of physicians in Natchez has all but decided to put its new $6 million medical complex in Louisiana.
If the blame circulating around the state was typhoid we'd all be dead in about two shakes of a stethoscope.
The rhetoric is increasingly frightening, especially for patients who must depend, first, on physicians for good care; second, on insurance policies to cover the cost of treatment; and, third, on lawyers, courts and juries for compensation should the treatment go badly.
It's a crisis that threatens to get worse as the high cost of medical care continues its upward spiral.
What to do.
First, some general observations.
The high cost of medical care is a serious issue in Mississippi. It needs to be taken seriously. The state's Medicaid program has more than 600,000 clients and the Legislature just approved a temporary, stop-gap measure to cover a $158 million deficit. This year. Next year, the gap will be back, probably bigger than ever. Costs are not going to go down on their own.
The Legislature is hesitant to deal with contentious issues. It punted on the state flag. It punted on congressional redistricting. It punted on tort reform.
This summer and fall, the appropriate legislative committee members and experts should gather information from all of these affected players lawyers, doctors, patients, insurance companies and the interested public and then develop a consensus on what should be done.
It's time for a health care cost summit. It's time for all of the lobbyists for all of the special interests to engage in a civil discussion of the issues without rancorous name-calling or blame.
This crisis needs a real solution, if it's possible.