Op-ed urges Arkansans to make informed choices on liability ballot measure

By Toni Rose Arkansas, Texas Source

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  • June 28, 2018

In 1987 I had a baby girl in Houston, Texas. She was born a month early, and despite complications, she was delivered at a little over five pounds.

We were lucky at that time because we lived in Houston, home of one of the greatest medical centers in the world. But Texas had a problem. Texas had a doctor shortage, especially in high-risk services such as labor and delivery, neurosurgery and trauma.

More than 150 counties had no local obstetrics care, and services were sometimes more than 100 miles away. Physicians were leaving Texas for states that were less litigious or they were quitting medical practice altogether.

By 2003 the exodus of doctors was such a crisis the state of Texas initiated, and passed, tort reform to rein in the cost of practicing medicine. The landmark reforms created an almost immediate turnaround, starting with pediatric subspecialties increasing 300 percent in the following 10 years.

Emergency doctors in rural areas increased 64 percent, more than 10 times the growth in those areas. Thirty-five rural counties added at least one OB-GYN, almost half of which never had one. You can find similar stories in more than 30 states that have implemented tort reform.

Issue 1 allows voters in Arkansas to attract more much-needed doctors and health-care professionals to our state.

As the co-founder of the conservative Christian organization An American Speaks, I know firsthand that providing no access to needed health services places a value on human life. The value is zero.

In 2012, Mrs. Laurie Wilhelm had enjoyed home births of her previous children in rural Arkansas, but she started bleeding heavily during the birth of the baby she was carrying at the time. She was rushed to the beautiful new birthing center at the nearby hospital.

The hospital had no OB-GYN on staff. Administrators had been unable to attract or keep the needed doctor because liabilities to practice were too high.

Perhaps if they had, she may have been sent to the better-equipped and staffed hospital in Missouri, 80 miles away, by air rather than ambulance.

Laurie bled to death. Her baby died.

A great champion of the unborn and friend of mine, Jerry Cox of the Family Council, makes the assertion that tort reform is a pro-life issue. In this case I agree. Laurie Wilhelm’s life and that of her unborn baby proves it.

Thousands of women and their unborn children in rural Arkansas are at risk due to the lack of care and the many miles to an OB-GYN, whether a family plans a hospital birth or not.

I personally prefer to keep the term “pro-life” with the rights of the unborn. Many issues could be called “pro-life,” but let our unborn babies have this one distinction. However, just like our unborn children need care, so, too, do our vulnerable seniors in assisted-living and long-term-care nursing facilities. These places are home for thousands of Arkansans.

My grandmother lived in a nursing home. My dad spent the last year of his life in a nursing home. My mother is in an assisted-living facility. I understand this–spending an extraordinary amount of resources on liability insurance does not help my mother’s facility hire more compassionate caregivers. The money spent on attorneys doesn’t help hire more nurses who are needed throughout the state.

In overall health care, Arkansas ranks 49th of 50 states. Money that could be spent on needed doctors, needed caregivers in hospitals, needed rehabilitation facilities, needed clinics and needed nursing homes is not going toward these things. Funds to improve quality of life often aren’t going where they are needed most, not because the desire to do so isn’t there, but because the requirement to pay exorbitant amounts for insurance is the expensive cost of providing care to those who need it most.

Paying lawyers exorbitant contingency fees doesn’t save a life. However, with the unchecked civil justice system as it is, we know it takes lives.

Our organization, An American Speaks, with its mission to protect family values, wholesome communities by raising conservative Christian voice, strongly supports Issue 1 on the ballot in November. By making Arkansas more inviting to health-care professionals, our chances are better the next Laurie Wilhelm and her baby have a doctor waiting when she arrives at the hospital.

To learn more about An American Speaks, please visit www.anamericanspeaks.com.