- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday announced the start of an advertising campaign aimed at educating residents about a looming medical-malpractice crisis.

“Today marks the beginning of the end of the medical-liability crisis that is gripping the District’s patients and doctors,” Mr. Williams said during a press conference for the “Keep Your Doctor in D.C.” campaign.

The campaign, paid for by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), features two placards that were being posted yesterday in and around Metro stations and buses, and will appear in local publications.

One of the placards, titled “Busted,” reads: “With the money D.C. residents will spend this year on the medical liability crisis, the District could hire 3,463 new police officers.”

“When [city residents] are made aware of the costs of this crisis, D.C. residents will insist on sensible reforms,” said Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive officer of AHIP, a trade association representing the health insurance industry.

AHIP spokesman Mohit M. Ghose said the placards were being placed yesterday at the Gallery Place and other Metro stations.

He said the advertising campaign eventually will encompass eight subway stations and up to eight bus routes.

“Obviously, we are going to ramp it up as the council comes back to town,” Mr. Ghose said.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, is trying to garner support for his medical-malpractice reform bill, which lacks sufficient support on the D.C. Council.

Yesterday, he was joined by representatives from the Medical Society of the District of Columbia and the insurance industry at the press conference.

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, who did not attend the press conference, criticized the campaign.

“I really think that the mayor is off-base in this one,” said Mr. Fenty, who is running to succeed Mr. Williams. “The ads just ignore the fact that the insurance companies are raising these insurance rates, but they are blaming the doctors and the lawyers.”

Asked if the ads would mislead residents into thinking that taxpayer money is fueling the medical-malpractice crisis, the mayor said the placards are “aggressive” but “acceptable.”

“The public makes choices,” Mr. Williams said. “And what were are saying is here, right now, in a larger sense, we are making a choice to spend a lot of money on malpractice.”

Mr. Williams’ reform plan, which appears unlikely to pass the council, includes a call for limiting most jury payouts for pain and suffering in malpractice lawsuits to $250,000 against physicians and to $500,000 against hospitals.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, who is also considering a run for mayor next year, has submitted an alternative bill that focuses on changing insurance regulations to stem rising malpractice premiums.

Her proposed Medical Malpractice Insurance Reform Amendment Act of 2005 has 10 co-sponsors on the 13-member council.

Mr. Williams yesterday said the Cropp bill lacks legal reform and is “window dressing to the core problem, which is runaway lawsuits.”

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the Committee on Health, last week concluded a task force on the issue and is expected to craft a bill around the group’s findings.

K. Edward Shanbacker, executive vice president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, said legislation is needed to retain doctors in the city. He said 61 physicians in the medical society have stopped providing obstetric care and 80 physicians still practice.

The Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, which has about 500 members, has opposed the mayor’s plan, saying it would be unfair to patients.

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