Natchez surgeon contacts

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

physician-U.S. senator for help in forging federal tort reform



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The Natchez Democrat

Natchez surgeon Dr. Thomas Weed persists in efforts to cure an ailing health-care system in Mississippi.

He acknowledges that Mississippi is not the only state where doctors, hospitals and others in the medical industry are suffering because of rising malpractice rates and declining reimbursements from government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

However, Mississippi is what he knows best because of his location in Natchez. And the proximity of his and other Natchez practices to Louisiana compounds some of the problems, he said.

Weed has been at the forefront of medical professionals in the state lobbying for changes to make insurance more affordable, particularly to put an end to what has been called &uot;jackpot justice&uot; in lawsuits tried in nearby Jefferson and Claiborne counties.

Even with legislation passed in a special session of the state Legislature in the fall, problems continue.

The new law, which went into effect Jan. 1, caps punitive damages at $500,000. That change is a good one, doctors have agreed; but the reforms passed in 2002 came too late to help medical professionals and institutions now.

&uot;Most insurance companies have canceled their policies and left the state,&uot; Weed said. &uot;Those remaining have stopped issuing new policies and have increased premiums from 50 to 200 percent.&uot;

This is happening as what he calls &uot;flawed calculations&uot; have driven Medicare reimbursements down 5 percent last year, with another reduction automatically set for 2004.

Interest among some in the U.S. Congress in creating federal legislation to address malpractice insurance problems, among others, throughout the country has given medical professionals such as Weed some reason for hope.

So has the election as Republican Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee as majority leader to replace Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi. Frist is a physician and, Weed said, likely to understand some of the problems.

&uot;I sent him a letter proposing how I could see federal legislation working,&uot; Weed said. &uot;I haven’t heard back from him yet.&uot;

Some of Weed’s proposals include:

4Develop a pro-active rather than an adversary system for identifying patient injury or unexpected outcome.

4Report these poor outcome incidences to a centralized board which would have the capability of investigating such outcomes and determining if compensation is indicated.

4If the board determines that any fault or negligence was involved, then this could be forwarded to the state Board of Medical Examiners, Board of Nursing or Hospital Board, whichever is appropriate. &uot;In this way,&uot; Weed said, &uot;a negligent physician could be either helped by further education or assistance or restricted from any certain aspects of medical practice.&uot;

4Also, in this system, decisions would be made by qualified experts rather than jurors, whose vote often reflects sympathy rather than facts, Weed said.

4Such a system would eliminate any adversarial relationship between doctor and patient, restoring that trusting relationship that always has been the goal in doctor-patient relationships.

4&uot;Secondary benefits include a marked reduction of overall costs,&uot; Weed said. &uot;Also, doctors and hospitals would be much more pro-active, referring potentially injured parties into this review process.&uot;

Weed said his recommendations to Frist have precedents in other systems, such as the Workmen’s Compensation program.

Further, for medical professionals and institutions working near state lines, a federal law would put an end to &uot;hassles that occur when crossing a state line&uot; and would level the playing field state to state, Weed said.

Enormous sums go to the insurance pool today, he said. &uot;This is a mandatory expense for those physicians who practice in a hospital.&uot;

Weed said the greatest injustice of the present system is that an injured party gets only a tiny percentage of the money awarded in malpractice lawsuits.

&uot;The money is spent on plaintiff attorneys, defense attorneys, plaintiff expert witnesses, defense expert witnesses, investigation, depositions, court time, lost work time and so forth,&uot; he said. &uot;Have we merely created a legal industry that consumes countless dollars and produces very little justice?&uot;