Insurance regulations bear blame, critics say

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, January 2, 2005

President George W. Bush's visit to Madison County this week will shine an even brighter spotlight on a pocket of the country with a reputation for attracting so-called frivolous medical malpractice suits.

But as Bush uses the "judicial hellholes" of Madison and St. Clair counties as backdrops to advance his tort reform agenda, critics of that agenda say a key element in solving the medical malpractice crisis lies to the north, with insurance regulators in Springfield. Illinois, according to consumer groups, has the most lenient insurance regulations in the country -- and that, they say, is one reason the cost of malpractice insurance for Illinois doctors has shot up. Indeed, some critics say, Illinois' system has become the model for congressional efforts to loosen regulations on the insurance industry nationwide.
"For the insurance industry, Illinois is the gold standard," said Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, a national consumer rights organization.
"The (Illinois) insurance department doesn't have the authority, in most cases, to deny an excessive rate. They don't have the legal authority," Doroshow said. That, she added, means insurance companies can charge what they want.

Doroshow said that tort law is "all state-based law."
"What Bush and Congress are talking about is interfering with the decisions of local judges and juries, in a massive way," she said.
What's driving premium hikes, Doroshow added, is that the insurance industry makes most of its money from investments, and therefore does well during market booms and poorly when the market dips. When the market goes down, the insurance companies raise their rates to compensate.
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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