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StarBulletin.com

Tort reform is bad medicine for residents of Hawaii


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POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Let's get real about a diagnosis for our current lack of doctors in Hawaii. It is not because highly skilled doctors are afraid they will be sued if they set foot in our islands. But it is about a lot of other factors that need to be recognized so the “;tort reformers”; don't force us to take bad medicine that blocks our rights to be free from the effects of pliers being left in our bodies after surgery and many other well-known medical malpractice horror stories.

According to the tort reformers, who appear in your editorial pages each few days, greedy patients and lawyers are the people who push away good doctors as they near our shores. But I don't agree. During the past 17 years I have represented about 3,000 injured workers and in only two cases have those workers raised serious questions about being improperly treated by their doctors. Yet in those same 3,000 cases our best doctors have been constantly harassed by aggressive insurance companies that continually denied and delayed their well-reasoned treatment plans. And in those same 17 years our Department of Labor has been docile, to say the least, in supporting those doctors as they tried to get workers healed and back to work.

It is a well-known fact that many of Hawaii's best doctors no longer provide services to injured workers because of the hassles forced upon them by those aggressive, cost-cutting insurance companies. Is it possible doctors don't want to come to “;paradise”; to be pushed around by work injury insurance companies?

And it is a well-known fact that Hawaii's doctors are paid precious little to treat injured workers because our medical reimbursement schedule is to far too low to make that treatment minimally profitable. Is it possible doctors don't want to come to “;paradise”; go broke trying to treat our injured workers?

Actually I found it interesting that the very week that the Star-Bulletin published a pro-tort reform piece in your editorial pages, the front page of your paper sent out alarm bells about the poor air quality on the Big Island. Is it possible doctors don't want to come to “;paradise”; to see their kids get asthma-like symptoms and be kept in during lunch hours on bad air days? And how about local schools and other cultural diversions that might be a tad lacking for any stateside medical recruits to our “;paradise.”; Is it possible doctors don't want to come to “;paradise”; to have to choose between spending thousands of dollars for private schools or seeing their kids go to public schools that have outdated books or no books at all?

Tort reform won't really cure the doctor shortage in Hawaii but I'll bet its the kind of medicine that will make the insurance companies feel like a million dollars fast. Maybe that is the real purpose of tort reform.

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Joseph Zuiker is a Honolulu attorney specializing in work injury claims in Hawaii.