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Focus on patients, not the premiums

I am a lottery winner, and you are out of control.

In a nutshell, isn't that what Colin Cave, the Oregon Medical Association and the insurance companies want you to believe?

Why? Because they want to improve their bottom line.

They want you to believe that my family won the lottery because my son Jerry and I were 'lucky' enough to be victimized by our doctor and hospital. We were 'lucky' because my son nearly died during childbirth because of a doctor's and hospital's negligence.

'Lucky' because Jerry lived and has severe cerebral palsy Ñ he'll never talk, never walk and will always require full-time care. We are lucky because another doctor told us while Jerry was in neonatal intensive care that our family should hire an attorney.

We're lucky because we held our doctor and hospital accountable, and we received a settlement that was placed in trust to pay for Jerry's lifetime of expenses. By law, that money is to go for his lifetime care. We can't spend it on anything other than that.

You are out of control because when you get together with 11 other Oregonians as a jury, you are incapable of hearing the facts of a case and making a decision as to whether a doctor or hospital was negligent.

You can't be trusted to place a value on life when a doctor or hospital needlessly injures a person like my son. Instead, you ignore the facts and rush to hand out bags of cash to undeserving people. You can't decide what's fair for my son Ñ you should leave it up to the insurance companies and the doctors and hospitals who originally hurt him.

I say, to borrow Colin Cave's word, poppycock.

True, Oregon is in an insurance crisis. Homeowners' insurance is skyrocketing, and auto insurance is on the rise. Doctors in Oregon are suffering huge increases in their medical malpractice insurance.

Their solution to this crisis is for you and me to surrender our constitutional rights so insurance companies can protect their profits.

Their argument ignores basic facts.

• Too many patients are being hurt. A study from the Institute of Medicine found that about 100,000 people are killed each year in hospitals because of preventable medical errors. That's the equivalent of a 747 jet crashing every day.

More telling, another 1 million people are hurt each year because of malpractice Ñ people such as Jerry and others whose lives are forever altered.

• In the past six years, there have been only six jury verdicts against doctors or hospitals in Oregon that were for more than $1 million, according to records from the state Board of Medical Examiners.

That's one verdict per year, and insurance companies call that out of control?

• In 2001, the worst year on record for Oregon's two largest providers of malpractice insurance, the companies paid $38.3 million to their own attorneys and to injured patients.

That works out to $8,500 per insured doctor. Yet your family physician pays around $10,000 a year for insurance, and obstetricians in Oregon pay as much as $60,000 a year for their insurance.

How can that be? How does $8,500 per doctor translate into a premium of $60,000 a year?

We have a problem in Oregon and nationwide. Patients are needlessly injured. Insurance premiums are needlessly outrageous, especially for doctors in rural Oregon.

But the answer isn't hurting injured patients even more or taking away people's right to serve on a jury.

The answers are to improve safety in our health care settings so patients aren't hurt and to reform our insurance system so doctors aren't gouged by their insurance companies.

Kathy Brooks is a business manager for Publicis Advertising and attended Ball State University in Indiana. She lives in Southwest Portland with her husband and 5-year-old son.