WisBusiness: Brown County providers urge tort reform in health care reform

For WisBusiness.com

GREEN BAY — A well-behaved audience listened attentively and enthusiastically — often erupting in applause — as Brown County health-care providers and business leaders discussed various aspects of health care reform Tuesday night at Green Bay’s Meyer Theater.

The health care forum, which drew a mixed crowd of roughly 1,000 people, was sponsored by the Brown County Medical Society and the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We as a medical society and a community need to stand up and make our voices heard,” said Thomas Wilkins, president of the Brown County Medical Society. “Health care affects every single person in the U.S. We’re here to try to mobilize.”

The forum, which included a panel of seven health care providers from various hospitals and clinics and two representatives from the chamber, addressed five issues: covering the uninsured and underinsured, adequately funding Medicare, reducing bureaucracy, enacting legal reform and maintaining the patient-doctor relationship.

All the panelists agreed that some type of health care reform is necessary, but the extent and logistics of the reform brought about varying viewpoints and active discussion.

Dr. Ashok Rai, president and chief executive officer for Prevea Health, said he thinks any health care reform legislation should require everyone to carry some form of health insurance.

“None of these issues can be addressed without mandating insurance for everyone,” Rai said. “People have to realize they can’t just buy insurance when they need it. It doesn’t work that way.”

Jeff Mason, chief executive officer of BayCare Clinic, said expanding Medicare to the uninsured is not the answer. Medicare has its own problems, and its low value forces providers to shift costs to privately insured patients, he said.

“BayCare brings in 18 cents on the dollar for Medicare and 17 cents on the dollar for medical assistance,” Mason said. “We are underwater in Medicare. We need to solve the problem with a good long-term solution instead of a short-term patch.”

All panelists and many audience members agreed health care reform legislation now before the U.S. House should include tort reform. Lowering the risk of malpractice lawsuits would bring more doctors into the health care system and reduce costs, said Dr. John Gallagher, the vice president of medical operations for the northern region of Aurora Medical Group.

Gallagher said a recent survey revealed 92 percent of physicians practice “defensive medicine,” which is conducting unnecessary and sometimes costly tests to prevent the threat of a lawsuit. If the money paid for malpractice premiums and defensive medicine went into a universal account, those injured by a medical procedure could benefit, he said.

“Everyone who suffers a negative outcome from medicine would benefit, instead of the lucky few who sue and win the malpractice lottery that we see with our present system,” Gallagher said.

Paul Jadin, director of the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, said the health care bill doesn’t put enough emphasis on personal responsibility or preventive health. More incentives should be offered for wellness care, while smokers and others not following the health advice of their doctors should expect to pay higher premiums, he said.

“Without reform, we’re heading for some serious problems,” Jadin said. “We need to cover everyone. We need to do it efficiently, and we need to do it with a greater level of individual responsibility.”