By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Dr. Michael Currie’s The Imaging Center has two locations with six radiologists. But if the state hadn’t passed tort reform legislation, he isn’t sure he would have been able to expand his business that now serves a half-dozen hospitals.
“I’ve been in Tupelo for 18 years, and I had trouble trying to recruit radiologists here,” said Currie, who was playing host to Gov. Haley Barbour on Tuesday. Barbour was on a whirlwind tour to mark the two-year anniversary of the legislation.
Insurance premiums were “substantial,” Currie said, “but we’ve seen them drop 25 percent. When you’re trying to pay office staff and run equipment like this, every dollar helps.”
Barbour noted that the legislation – which The Wall Street Journal has called the most comprehensive tort reform bill – has helped put an end to frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits.
“People who have been hurt can still go to court,” Barbour said. “We had about 270 suits last year, which was 89 percent less than the previous 12 months before tort reform.
“People realized that we had a health care crisis created by lawsuit abuse … they realized it had an impact on their lives.”
Physicians’ medical insurance premiums were spiraling out of control, rising 90 percent or more annually. That either drove doctors or forced them to retire early, and it also created an unwelcome atmosphere for the medical community. That, in turn, had an economic impact, Barbour said.
“Companies want to go where they know their employees can find high-quality health care … but we were losing doctors,” he said.
Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, who was at the gathering, was thanked by Barbour for his efforts in pushing through the legislation.
“We had some political obstacles to overcome, but ultimately, we were successful in working with our colleagues in the House to pass this very important matter,” Nunnelee said. “You can see the difference it’s made. We’ve seen large insurance companies come back to us, where before, they didn’t even want to talk to us. And at one point, the state had to set up a risk pool for physicians because nobody would insure them. Now, we don’t need that risk pool anymore.”
Gerald Wages, executive vice president for external affairs for North Mississippi Health Services, said tort reform has made a “significant impact” on the rural health care system, the country’s largest.
“We’ve seen a reduction in insurance premiums for our physicans as we’ve seen the frequency of the frivolous lawsuits decrease,” he said. “We’ve been able to recruit new physicians, who are now willing to talk to us. Three years ago, we had physicians who were contemplating leaving, but they’ve stayed. Tort reform had helped us concentrate on what we do best, and that’s deliver high-quality health care to our patients.”