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More Than 10,000 Doctors, Supporters March To Support Liability Reforms

October 22, 1985

LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ More than 10,000 doctors and supporters marched to the Michigan Capitol on Tuesday for a rally replete with airborne messages to push legislation to solve medical malpractice liability problems.

Doctors and nurses expressed concern that the rising cost of malpractice insurance, driven by increasing awards in malpractice lawsuits, is driving people out of the medical profession.

″I’m in the process of discontinuing obstetrics at this time,″ Dr. Robert Vitu, a family practitioner from Saginaw, said while standing at the edge of the crowd. ″After 2,000 plus deliveries, I’ve got four more to go. And in 30 years in practice, I’ve never been sued.″

Vitu said Michigan is seen by doctors as having one of the nation’s worst medical liability problems. He said his insurance has jumped from about $3,500 to $3,600 last year to about $5,000 or $5,500 next year.

Lois Largo, a clinical nurse specialist from Westland, said malpractice coverage for the practice she and her surgeon husband operate is expected to double from the current $11,000.

″The medical profession is hemorrhaging, Mr. Governor, and we need your help,″ Dr. Carl Gagliardi, a Detroit-area pediatrician who chairs the Michigan State Medical Society’s board, told Democratic Gov. James Blanchard.

Blanchard, in an address to the group, said he appointed a special factfinder to identify steps the state can take to solve the problem.

The Michigan Senate has approved a 19-bill package of liability reforms that include a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering awards.

The House is looking into the situation. House Minority Leader Michael Busch, R-Saginaw, predicted that some form of ″cap legislation″ to limit awards will be enacted by Christmas.

An airplane circled the crowd covering the Capitol front lawn with a banner that read, ″Health care crisis doctors care.″ A later message read, ″Support your local physician - call your legislator 3/8″

Three companies write malpractice insurance in Michigan, down from 10 companies a decade ago, said Dr. Richard J. McMurray, a Flint obstetrician-gy necologist who heads the medical society.

″Does that sound like there’s a lot of money to be made in medical liability?″ McMurray asked. ″We are here to dramatize a serious situation.″

″The liability crisis is real and its adverse impact on our state must be stopped,″ said state Sen. Dan DeGrow, R-Port Huron. ″It used to be that an apple a day kept the doctor away. Now it’s malpractice insurance.″

DeGrow said high premiums are driving doctors out of the state and endangering access to medical care.

A counter-demonstration by 150 to 200 people was held at the Lansing Civic Center one block away, where the doctor’s march started.

″They don’t want to be held accountable for their errors,″ said William Coleman, chairman of Michigan Citizens Against Incompetent Medicine. ″When they make mistakes, it’s a matter of life and death.″

The picket line included parents pushing their children in wheelchairs and people carrying signs saying ″Money is your concern, life is ours,″ ″We didn’t cause this crisis″ and ″Let the jury decide.″

State Police Lt. Joseph Geshel said the crowd was the largest at the Capitol since Michigan State University won the NCAA national basketball championship in 1979.

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