- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS
In one commercial a woman says her husband needed emergency care, but surgeons weren't available. "Lawsuits against doctors and hospitals have made it too expensive for them to practice," she says.
In another ad, a woman tells of having a double mastectomy after being informed, mistakenly, that she had breast cancer. "I will never have what I had before," she adds.
Different aggrieved parties of the same debate, Leanne Dyess and Linda McDougal are featured in television commercials that begin airing in the Washington area today as Congress works on President Bush's legislation to limit medical-malpractice awards.
The commercials are the work of competing well-heeled groups, the American Hospital Association (AHA), which is supporting the bill, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which is opposed.
Officials on both sides say the ads are little more than a symbol of the broader war building over the legislation, which is expected to pass the House this week.
Once the battle shifts to the Senate, both sides say, the advertising will spread to states of key lawmakers. Other groups, including doctors and health insurance companies, also may begin buying television spots to sway pivotal congressional members.
Carlton Carl, a spokesman for the trial lawyers, said the purpose of the advertising is to "educate the public and obviously members of Congress about what this legislation would do to real people, which is to penalize the patients most seriously injured by medical malpractice."
Mrs. McDougal, a 46-year-old mother of three who lives in Wisconsin, recounts her story in the ad.
"I was told that I had cancer. After my double mastectomy, the surgeon walked into my room and told me I never had cancer. The pathologist had switched slides and made a very big mistake," she said.
A cap on medical malpractice would mean "no accountability to the people causing the mistakes," she said.
Kristen Morris of the AHA said her group was running commercials "to raise the profile of the issue. …There's a real argument to be made that access to health care is being impeded because of the escalating costs of medical liability."
Mrs. Dyess says in the other ad: "My family fell victim to a crisis in health care. My husband was in an accident. He was rushed to the hospital, but the surgeons who could have helped him were no longer there. Lawsuits against doctors and hospitals have made it too expensive for them to practice."
"We didn't get the care we needed, and today we suffer. But you don't have to. Congress can change the law."
AHA officials said Mrs. Dyess' husband, Tony, suffered head injuries in a car accident in the summer. He now "requires constant care, is unable to communicate, to work and to provide for his family," added Lee Amy, an AHA spokeswoman.
Legislation headed for the House floor on Thursday would put a $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages compensation for life-altering injuries, such as the loss of sight or limbs, or the death of a child.
There would be no cap on economic damages out-of-pocket costs that include lost wages, medical costs or funeral expenses.
Punitive damages to penalize a physician for serious mistakes would be limited to twice the amount of economic damages awarded or $250,000, whichever is greater.

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