Doctors eye that Monopoly card we all wanted

July 22, 2012
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“The public has this misperception that doctors are burdened with fending off frivolous lawsuits. At least in Michigan, that could not be further from the truth,” said Rob Buchanan of Buchanan & Buchanan in Grand Rapids.

The law firm bills itself as one of Michigan’s top-rated medical malpractice firms.

Michigan enacted tort reform in 1993 that made it much more difficult to successfully sue for medical malpractice. But if Dr. Roger Kahn’s proposed legislation in Lansing becomes law, it sounds like medical malpractice suits might become even more difficult to win — if not virtually impossible.

Kahn, a cardiologist in Saginaw Township, is also a Republican state senator. Senate Bill 1116 basically says a health care professional or facility is excused from medical malpractice liability if the doctor’s professional opinion is that what he or she was doing was in the patient’s best interest.

“It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card in Monopoly,” said Buchanan.

He said there is now a “very clear objective standard” that a physician’s performance is weighed against, similar to how an attorney’s performance is weighed in cases of alleged legal malpractice. Buchanan maintains the proposed legislation is “basically nullifying an objective standard” that now applies to physicians.

Since the legislation in 1993, “claims paid in medical malpractice have never been lower” in Michigan, said Buchanan, and most malpractice cases are “economically nonviable” to pursue because of the caps on awards doctors would have to pay and the legal requirements for building a case that can win in court.

He said his firm probably takes on only about 1 percent or less of the cases brought to it.

Doctors’ malpractice insurance premiums “are not being driven up” by the claims being paid, he said.

Last week, the Senate Insurance Committee held an open hearing on Senate Bill 1116, which Buchanan and other attorneys attended. There were also many individuals demonstrating outside the hearing. Some of them testified about medical problems they said were created or exacerbated by medical professionals’ alleged malpractice.

Supporters of the bill say Michigan will face a serious shortage of doctors if it doesn’t pass.

Sen. Kahn isn’t the actual sponsor of 1116. That person is Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, but the Michigan State Medical Society, which strongly supports it, put a news service report on its website last week that says Kahn is “the primary force” behind it.

Kahn is, however, the official sponsor of proposed Senate Bill 1110, which would exempt emergency room physicians from malpractice suits except in cases of “gross negligence.”

Kahn was recently honored as a Health Care Champion by the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. The association said he has been a “legislative champion for hospitals and physicians since he was first elected in 2004.”

Anything’s possible

The Gun Lake Tribe announced that it refinanced $165 million in outstanding debt incurred to develop and construct the Gun Lake Casino. The refinancing of the original loan was completed three years in advance of the scheduled July 20, 2015 maturity date.

KeyBank’s Native American Financial Services division led the refinancing process. “The Authority is grateful to KeyBank for being an outstanding financial partner. This relationship has allowed the Tribe to lower its interest costs and have the flexibility to consider expanding the Gun Lake Casino. At this time, we do not have definitive plans to expand, but with this refinancing, it is now possible,” said John Shagonaby, CEO of the Gun Lake Tribal Gaming Authority.

A/C bills are in the mail

Consumers Energy cranked out more electricity last Tuesday during the massive heat wave than it has ever done before: 9,086 megawatts between 3 and 4 p.m. July 17.

The previous all-time record was 8,930 megawatts on July 21 last year.

“Weather was a key factor” in driving that demand last week, said John Russell, the utility’s president/CEO, “but we also continue to see signs of Michigan’s economic recovery as manufacturers add shifts and limit their previously normal practice of summer shut-downs.”

Consumers Energy, which is 125 years old this year, is the nation’s fourth-largest combined electric/gas utility, with 6.8 million customers out of Michigan’s 10 million inhabitants in the Lower Peninsula. Almost 2 million of those are electricity customers.

Talent base

Does Grand Rapids have talent? The Arena District thinks so. The nonprofit coalition of downtown restaurants, taverns and coffee shops is holding auditions for its latest promotion, “GR’s Got Talent,” Aug. 3 and 4 at the Peter Martin Wege Theater, and the talent finale Aug. 18 at the Civic Theater.

The competition will be held across two age groups: a youth division for those between the ages of 10-17, and an adult division for those 18 and older.

The finalists in the youth division will perform from 2 to 4:30 at the Civic on the 18th and the adults will do the same that evening from 7 to 9:30. Tickets for the finalist rounds are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. The top prize is $1,000 in hard American currency.

The bands entered in the competition have a separate audition, billed as the “Battle of the Bands,” at The Pyramid Scheme Aug. 1.

Graci Harkema, of U.S. Communications, Advertising & Public Relations, said the talent search is an inaugural event for the Arena District. That must mean there is enough talent around here to hold another one next year.

Go to grsgottalent.com for more information.

Onion fun

As everybody knows — or at least they should — the National Onion Association Summer Conference is in town this week at the Hilton on 28th Street SE, from Wednesday evening through Saturday morning.

Friday morning the attendees will tour Cascade Engineering on 37th Street in southeast Grand Rapids. The plastics manufacturing company’s Decade Products division makes containers and pallets used in the onion industry.

“Decade Products is delighted to welcome the National Onion Association, the voice for an important and unique industry that makes the food we eat so much more flavorful, healthful and interesting,” said Ralph Harris, president of Decade Products.

Founded in 1913 and based in Greeley, Colo., the NOA is one of the nation’s oldest agricultural trade groups, representing growers, shippers, brokers and other commercial participants in the industry. This year, in fact, the onion association’s president is Mike Meyer of Hudsonville. He’s one of the principals of Bosgraaf Sales Co., a fresh vegetables broker.

“Michigan has a long history of growing onions,” said Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the NOA in Greeley.

According to Mininger, the national onion crop is worth about $1.5 billion at the farm gate. There are a lot of muck farms in West Michigan that grow onions and celery, with Hudsonville being pretty much the epicenter of that activity. Mininger said the region has about 3,000 to 3,500 acres of onions each year, but that’s only about 2 or 3 percent of the total U.S. production.

Mininger said onions are “the third most-consumed fresh vegetable in the United States,” with the average American consuming more than 20 pounds per year.

That’s probably pretty good news for the breath mint industry, too.

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