Rally For Reform -- SPOKANE - For the first time in Spokane's history, hundreds of doctors, hospital administrators and patients gathered on May 29 at the Convention Center to rally for tort reform. Proponents of tort reform say Washington has a medical liability crisis, as skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums are forcing doctors to limit or leave their practices, particularly in obstetrics and neurology. The increased malpractice costs, they say, are the result of high jury awards in malpractice lawsuits. Tort reform in Washington would limit a plaintiff's non-economic damages to $250,000.
"I'm here to show my support for tort reform at both the state and national level," shouted Dr. Maria Stamp of Family Medicine, Spokane, above the roar of demonstrators at the rally. "As of July 1, 2003, our malpractice insurance will lapse."
Stamp is a resident with two years of training to go. "I won't be able to finish my training unless we obtain coverage to do obstetrical treatment," she says. "I may have to rethink the scope of my practice. I may not be able to incorporate obstetrics."
Tort reform advocates say when doctors can no longer afford insurance, patients suffer, especially those in rural areas who have limited access to care.
But opponents say insurance companies aren't having problems only because of runaway juries.
"The increase in premiums seems to correlate with the drop in the economy because insurance companies make money off investments, not premiums," says Patrick K. Fannin, a Spokane attorney who represents patients in malpractice lawsuits.
At the rally, doctors and hospital administrators listed numerous examples of multi-million dollar jury awards, but Fannin says doctors should take a closer look at the real issue.
"[Tort reform] only benefits the insurance companies," says Fannin.
Tom Myers, the CEO of Physicians Insurance, the largest insurer of doctors in Washington State, told The Inlander earlier this year that he can't promise doctors' malpractice premiums will go down if tort reform is enacted.
Still, Myers was at the rally last week, encouraging doctors to stay on the side of their insurance companies.
Sensible Management -- SPOKANE -- A group that calls itself Citizens For Sensible Government (CFSG) has been collecting signatures to support a change of government from strong mayor back to the council-manager type of government.
Dick Gow, chairman of CFSG, says that on May 30 the group filed the last signatures needed to get the measure on the September primary ballot.
"We are now waiting for them to get verified," says Gow. "How long that will take -- you are going to have to ask the City Clerk and the elections office."
Spokane is electing a new mayor this fall, and CFSG has been accused of attempting to confuse voters by trying to get its measure on the same November ballot as the mayoral race.
In order to get on the primary ballot, CFSG had to collect even more signatures than first estimated.
City Clerk Terri Pfister says the first count shows CFSG filed an additional 1,501 signatures this time around, one more than they needed.
"They need a total of 6,489 -- that's 15 percent of the number of voters who voted in the Nov. 6, 2001 election, to get on the September ballot," says Pfister.
The filed signatures have not been verified yet, so these are not confirmed numbers.
More Manpower Needed -- COEUR d'ALENE -- The Ironman North America is coming to the Lake City on June 29, just a few weeks from now, and the organizers still desperately need more volunteers.
"We already have signed up 2,000, but we need a total of 3,000 at the event," says Sara Fladeland, volunteer coordinator.
"We expect 2,000 competitors from all over the world," she explains. "And the race is full."
Volunteers are treated to food and drink while they work, a T-shirt and an appreciation banquet after the race.
An Ironman -- which, despite its name, women also compete in -- is a triathlon consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Yes, that is the same distance as a marathon.
"It's all done in consecutive order," says Fladeland. "We especially need people to work in transition areas, where the athletes change from swim to bike, and bike to run. We need people in the changing tents, in the bike lots, and we can always use medical volunteers."
To volunteer, register online at www.ironmancda.com, or call (208) 664-3194 ext. 210