Local doctors optimistic despite wait for results

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 31, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; Local medical professionals say it could be 18 months or more before doctors see the tangible results of tort reform legislation on their insurance bills.

But already, doctors say, there’s a new attitude: hope.

After doctors spent more than a year of trying to convince state legislators that something was wrong with their high medical malpractice insurance costs, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in October signed legislation aimed at capping damages in malpractice cases.

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It remains to be seen how that will affect doctors’ insurance bills, but their attitudes are improving, said Natchez physician Dr. Thomas Carey.

He should know.

One of the first results of tort reform for Carey was that he was able to recruit a new doctor to his obstetrics and gynecology practice. Dr. Donielle Daigle will begin work in Natchez in mid-July, he said.

&uot;It was a huge decision in her mind,&uot; Carey said, referring to the tort reform efforts.

Once reforms were passed, Daigle felt better about the state her professors had been warning her about, Carey said.

&uot;It’s just a sign,&uot; he said. &uot;We were just in a freefall, with doctors leaving.&uot;

Jack Houghton, CEO at Natchez Regional Medical Center, agreed that doctors see hope on the horizon.

Before tort reform was passed, Houghton said, doctors &uot;felt really helpless. They felt the system was broken.&uot;

The election of Jess Dickinson, a supporter of tort reform, to the state Supreme Court also helped attitudes, Houghton said.

&uot;That probably created more restful nights than (doctors) had seen in a long time,&uot; Houghton said.

Still, both Carey and Houghton said, it likely will take up to two years before insurance costs really start to come down.

And Natchez Regional has already found out it will be hit hard by insurance rates again this year, Houghton said.