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Pennington says tort reform will help him cut spending

Posted: January 8, 2014 - 12:10am
Republican gubernatorial challenger David Pennington said he wants a constitutional amendment to limit how much a person can be awarded for winning a medical malpractice lawsuit.   Special Photo
Special Photo
Republican gubernatorial challenger David Pennington said he wants a constitutional amendment to limit how much a person can be awarded for winning a medical malpractice lawsuit.

GRIFFIN, Ga. — Republican gubernatorial challenger David Pennington said a key to his plans to cut state spending is a constitutional amendment limiting how much a person can get from doctors and hospitals for medical mistakes.

Pennington, the mayor of Dalton, also blasted Gov. Nathan Deal during Thursday night’s Spalding GOP meeting for “cozying up” with attorneys whose career is devoted to suing medical providers and businesses. The Georgia Trial Lawyers Association held a fundraising luncheon for Deal last month at a plush hotel near the Governor’s Mansion.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in America where the trial attorneys of any state have endorsed a Republican governor,” Pennington said.

Pennington, who is hoping to defeat Deal in the May 20 primary, is basing much of his campaign on a pledge to trim the state income tax 33 percent by cutting expenditures. He noted that healthcare in the form of Medicaid and insurance for state workers and teachers is one of the state’s largest areas of spending.

Limiting lawsuits known as torts would encourage more doctors to practice here and bring down treatment costs, saving patients and employers like the state premium dollars, he argued. But a 2005 tort-reform law has largely been dismantled by the Georgia Supreme Court as being unconstitutional, which is why Pennington said a constitutional amendment is needed.

Also speaking at the event was Nancy Jester, a former DeKalb County school board member running for state superintendent to succeed John Barge who is also challenging Deal. Jester didn’t specifically cite Barge, but she said the state doesn’t follow its own rules in an effort to shelter administrators from budget cuts and accountability.

“We’ve had the various bureaucrats who do not have the best interests of kids and taxpayers basically in the role of state school superintendent, and we’ve seen what we’ve gotten from that,” she said. “We’ve basically been running sort of a protection scheme for bureaucrats around the state, and that has to stop.”

In addition to Jester, four others are also seeking the GOP nomination for superintendent, including Fitz Johnson, Matt Schultz, Kira Willis and Richard Woods.

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Pennington needs to do his homework

Mr. Pennington needs to do his homework before going down the misguided road of calling for limits to the accountability our Georgia juries can demand of negligent healthcare providers. What would his call for such limits fix?

The insurance premiums Georgia doctors pay are significantly down over the past decade.
The number of doctors practicing in Georgia has never been higher.
The medical liability insurance market has not been this competitive in anyone's memory.
Georgia doctors have won more than 90% of the cases that have been tried before a jury in the last decade, including 97% in 2011.
Both the amount of money paid and the frequency of medical malpractice payments on behalf of doctors across the country have fallen every single year since peaking in 2003. Payments made on behalf of malpracticing doctors in 2012 were the lowest ever on record in inflation-adjusted dollars, and the lowest since 1998 in actual dollars.
Malpractice payments fell 29 percent over the past 10 years while healthcare costs rose 58 percent.
Medical malpractice payments represented just 1/10 of 1% of national healthcare costs in 2012, the lowest on record.
Medical liability insurance premiums fell to a 10-year low of roughly 1/3 of 1% of healthcare costs.
Even if you completely eliminated the entire medical liability system, it would save this country only 1/2 of 1% of all healthcare costs.
Ten years after Texas passed a cap on damages like the one Pennington is calling for, Texas still has among the highest (top 5) healthcare costs in the country and the highest level of uninsured citizens.
Georgia’s growth in doctors-per-population ratio has outpaced Texas’s growth rate for each of the last four decades, including the 10 years since they passed caps on damages.
What exactly is Pennington trying to fix -- other than his abysmal polling numbers?