In a presidential election year that promises little hope for medical liability reform and other health policy breakthroughs, physicians are hoping that they can make a difference through one important tool: their patients.
Cardiologist Richard Schott's waiting room contains political information and a bulletin board that details the hottest health policy topics in Pennsylvania: the malpractice climate and "under fair market" reimbursement by private insurers. Physicians in his state "are reimbursed at 30% below Medicare rates, 40% below the national average," said Dr. Schott, of Media, Pa. In his opinion, patients should be kept up to speed on issues that affect their doctors.
Dr. Susan Komorowski, an ob.gyn. in Dayton, Ohio, believes it's more important than ever for physicians to talk to their patients about political issues.
"Most people are aware that the liability crisis is out of control. Most patients know this isn't right," she told this newspaper. "Unfortunately, we're at a point where it's costing us so much money, some physicians aren't going to practice" anymore. A tort reform bill that limits pain and suffering awards was approved in Ohio last year but hasn't been tested yet. Meanwhile, Ohio continues to lose physicians, she said.
Dr. Komorowski plans to talk to her patients about the November elections, though she hasn't decided on specific endorsements. This "electioneering" of patients worked once before in 2002, when certain state judges who had continually knocked down tort reform were up for re-election.
"We definitely tried to make an impact by talking to our patients," said Dr. Komorowski, whose office handed out little "prescription pads" to patients, with messages to vote for certain judges. The campaign paid off: Those who had ruled that tort reform was unconstitutional were voted out, she said.
Dr. John T. Gill, an orthopedic surgeon in Dallas, made similar efforts to educate patients when an important piece of tort reform legislation was on the table in last year's state election.
The Texas legislature had already passed a bill that placed limits on noneconomic damages, but the missing link was Proposition 12, an additional bill that would allow the state legislature to administer these caps, Dr. Gill explained. "For constitutional reasons, these two pieces of legislation had to be separate."
To educate his patients on Proposition 12, Dr. …