Wisconsin mobilizes after liability cap is overturned

Lawmakers and health leaders form a task force, and a Web site encourages support for liability reform.

By Mike Norbut — Posted Sept. 12, 2005

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Wisconsin legislators are creating a task force to investigate protecting health care for the state's residents in light of a recent state Supreme Court decision that threw out a 10-year-old cap on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases.

Obstetrician-gynecologist Clyde M. Chumbley, MD, CEO of Medical Associates Health Centers in Menomonee Falls, Wis., is one of 10 task force members. Health care lawyers and hospital executives also will join five state representatives on the panel that State Assembly Speaker John Gard is forming. David Olson, president and CEO of Bay Area Medical Center, Marinette, Wis.; Ralph Topinka, vice president and general counsel of Mercy Alliance, Janesville, Wis.; and health care attorneys David Strifling of Madison, Wis., and Mary Wolverton of Milwaukee also have been named to the group.

Physicians are worried that the court decision will destabilize the state's medical liability market, leading to rising insurance premiums. That could force some physicians to leave the state, retire early or restrict their practices to low-risk patients, leaving some patients without access to care, some legislators said.

Wisconsin had a cap on noneconomic damages for about 20 years. The first law passed in 1985 and expired in 1991. The second cap, which the court recently ruled on, took effect in 1995 and stood at $445,775.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Medical Society created a new Web site that encourages the public to support liability reform legislation in the state. The site (link) seeks to educate citizens about what can happen if the state goes an extended period of time without a noneconomic damages cap.

The Web site also promotes a recent poll, commissioned by both the medical society and Wisconsin Hospital Assn., that found a majority of Wisconsin citizens support a state cap on noneconomic damages. In a survey of 500 likely Wisconsin voters, 66% agreed that the state should "cap noneconomic damages to prevent both higher health costs associated with frivolous lawsuits and unnecessary medical testing;" 28% disagreed with the statement.

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