Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Medical Malpractice Focus of Town Hall Meeting Stop

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Medical Malpractice Focus of Town Hall Meeting Stop

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarah Skidmore, Times-Union business writer

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson held a town hall meeting in Jacksonville yesterday to draw input on the local medical malpractice crisis as part of his effort for national reform.

This was the second of several forums the secretary is holding across the nation to discuss challenges for U.S. health care. He said malpractice is one of the most significant hurdles.

Thompson's department, along with medical profession groups, has identified Florida as one of the crisis states, where health care is jeopardized because of the decreased availability and affordability of professional liability insurance for physicians.

"The health care system has been stretched and stressed," Thompson said. "We need to develop common-sense reform."

Health leaders, physicians, patients, trial lawyers and others spoke yesterday about their experiences and suggestions for remedies. Changing laws to make it harder to sue was overwhelmingly the theme of the discussion, except for remarks by trial lawyers and some victims of malpractice. Nearly all present also said while improving medical care is important, changing the legal system is the greatest need.

"Our conversation is not about pointing fingers," Thompson said. "It's about finding constructive ways to advance our health care system."

Thompson is known for making innovative changes to health and social systems during his work as governor of Wisconsin, where he created landmark welfare reform and extended health insurance to many of the state's uninsured.

Thompson said a national answer, not state answers, to the malpractice crisis, is needed and will likely come this year.

"I think this is the year. I think the stars are aligned correctly," Thompson said of the incoming Republican majority, which has shown more support of tort reform than the Democrats.

During the previous session, the House of Representatives passed legislation for malpractice litigation limits, but the effort was not supported in Senate. …

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