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Report eviscerates tort reform logic 

A "smoking gun" report filed last week by the nation's largest provider of medical malpractice insurance found that capping pain and suffering damages in malpractice cases -- a proposal known as tort reform -- won't lower doctors' premiums after all.

Legislation proposing tort reform has been floating in the General Assembly for several years and will be up for debate again in 2005. The bill suggests capping pain and suffering damages in malpractice suits at $250,000. Critics call that a paltry sum, considering that malpractice victims have suffered lifelong debilitations such as permanent brain damage or wrongfully amputated limbs.

Tort reform advocates -- including insurance lobbyists and some in the medical field -- claim that physicians' insurance rates are rising due to exorbitant jury awards in malpractice cases. As a result of the rising rates, doctors are being driven out of practice, advocates claim.

Opponents to tort reform -- including trial lawyers and consumer rights groups -- say that jury awards represent but a tiny percentage of physicians' liability costs; they claim insurance companies are merely using the jury awards as an excuse to jack up rates.

The recent report, written by GE Medical and released by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, finds that caps -- which were implemented in Texas six months ago -- haven't lowered doctors' premiums significantly: "Capping [pain and suffering] damages will show ... savings of 1 percent."

The report could directly affect Georgia's legislation and medical malpractice insurers. A medical consulting group complemented the report's findings by releasing a study last week concluding that tort reform isn't the solution for Georgia hospitals' rising medical costs. The study concludes it's the state's aging baby boomers, and not jury awards in malpractice cases, that have driven up hospital costs.

"The insurance industry continues to make money hand-over-fist, yet insurance premiums for doctors continue to balloon," says Allie Wall, executive director of Georgia Watch, a consumer group. "Caps have nothing to do with it."

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