Sunday, March 30, 2003

As He Was Saying ...

Part 2 of the Flyer's interview with Governor Phil Bredesen.

Posted By on Sun, Mar 30, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Flyer: What was behind your recent proposal for delaying implementation of the state lottery's scholarship criteria for a year?

Bredesen: What I'm saying is that I think it is vitally important that we act like we know what we're doing and run this in a businesslike fashion. And that if we make commitments to families about what we're going to do for them, if they geta B average or a B-minus average or whatever it is, that we be prepared to honor those commitments.

When I started looking at the lottery in detail, which was after the budget had been sent to the printers and I had been asked by a couple of reporters to weigh in on a few of these details, I sort of looked around and thought, You know, these revenue estimates are very soft. [W]hat I said was,Why do you have to do it at all. Go ahead, implement the lottery, set the thing up. We can get it under way and next year we come back and revisit the issue of how much the scholarships and exactly what the terms of the scholarships are. Because you can still issue scholarships in September of 2004, they've got plenty of time to do that. And you're going to have two or three or four or five months of the lottery under your belt at that point.

[T]he conservative Republicans have some nonnegotiable demands about the way the lottery stuff has to be put out, and they won't go for implementation of the lottery absent knowing how all that stuff is going to work. So, fine. That may mean it doesn't work that way. But it certainly seems to me a reasonable, businesslike suggestion to make to the leadership.

In particular, how much you're going to give them and what are the rules for getting it. You can't make those decisions in a vacuum without knowing how much money you're planning to spend on them. If I say the scholarship is $4,000 and it's a three-point grade average, and it's the same amount of money for private and public schools, that gives you a different number than if I say it's $3,000 and it's a 2.75 grade point average.

There's a bill to bring the Med in Memphis, a 501C3 institution, under the liability limitations of 100 percent government hospitals. What's your attitude toward that?

I'm supporting it. The basic idea is the Med is even more than a quasi-governmental entity. It's got deep links to government. Other hospitals with less clear links to government -- to wit, Erlanger in Chattanooga -- have used their links to bring themselves under the limitation on awards that governments enjoy. Which is what now? $325,000 or something like that? It's a relatively small number. Since the Med is a serious hospital with one of the most serious emergency rooms in the United States, they have lots of potential for malpractice awards. If they could get a limitation they would save a lot of money. They estimate $2 million on their malpractice insurance costs.

If the hospital were just flat owned by county government, there'd be no question about it. They'd be subject to those limitations. Other hospitals with a connection, like Erlanger, which have boards appointed by the county mayor or something like that, have done private acts and gotten themselves included. And the Med has probably got more of a case to make than Erlanger. And I believe the one in Jackson has got the same situation. They should have done it years ago. It's not something new. But this year they've got a fiscal crisis, and they're making lists of things to do that can help them out. That's one they could clearly do to help them out, and I think it's fine. I'm supportive of it.

What's your take on the current welter of tort reform bills?

We have not yet had outrageous kinds of malpractice awards in Tennessee. Some malpractice rates have grown in anticipation that we could be next. That isn't necessarily to me reason to rush off and change the law. As I said during the campaign, I'm sensitive to it.

Do you regard the doctors' warnings as overheated?

They're seeing increases in their malpractice costs. No question about that. Number One: It's happening all over the country. Insurance rates in general are soaring these last couple of years. Number Two: The doctor-owned insurance company with which most of them have their insurance also paid out a huge amount of its capital in dividends the past couple of years. So, in other words, they're giving money back over here and charging some more back in premiums over here. Number Three: I don't see the evidence of those huge awards. You can't go pointing to those huge awards. In fact, Tennessee juries are proving remarkably conservative about this kind of stuff. I'm just saying I'd like to see a lot more evidence. You've got to diagnose the disease before you write the prescription. And I don't feel that I've diagnosed the disease yet. On the malpractice insurance costs, several things could be at the root of that other than crazy juries and greedy lawyers making doctors go out of business. We'll take a serious look at it. If it takes action, we'll propose it.

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