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EVERYBODY'S COLUMN

New York must pursue medical liability reform

The news that New York State faces a $10 billion budget deficit is extremely sobering. Among the ways we can reduce our state's debt is through enacting liability reform. Unfortunately, the Dec. 27 letter, "Lower malpractice costs by eliminating mistakes," reflects the trial lawyers' refusal to consider any changes whatsoever in the tort system.

The bottom line is that many studies have shown we have an unpredictable system for resolving allegations of medical malpractice. Awards occur even when there is no negligence and often those truly injured by negligence do not sue.

Beyond the extraordinary cost this creates for physicians and hospitals, this flawed system dramatically increases the cost of all health care spending, including Medicaid. Notably, this was highlighted by former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch in a report that stated "any serious Medicaid cost-control effort requires reform of the state's expensive and inequitable medical malpractice system, which exerts significant cost pressure on the program."

Billions of dollars are spent each year due to "defensive medicine" including unnecessary MRIs, CT scans and specialty referrals. A recent Health Affairs article concluded that defensive medicine costs the health care system $45.6 billion annually. A Congressional Budget Office study showed that medical liability reform would reduce the federal deficit by $54 billion over 10 years.

Any comprehensive solution to this problem must include reducing adverse events. However, it also must include measures to reduce the fear of liability that triggers the costly practice of defensive medicine.

Given that our dire fiscal situation could prompt drastic cuts to the health care system so essential to protecting our neediest residents, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature must instead enact comprehensive medical liability reform.

Leah McCormack, M.D.

President, Medical Society of the State of New York

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Wine sales in grocery stores won't boost state's economy

In response to the Dec. 29 Another Voice, wine in grocery stores would have no long-term beneficial effect on New York's economy. While this is certainly my opinion, it is based on having spent nearly 30 years in the wine industry on a local, national and international basis. The state's claim that this will add $300 million to $400 million to our hemorrhaging state coffers would be a one-time fix. It should be noted that according to the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association, the industry already provides an annual total of $800 million in state tax revenue and 26,000 jobs in New York.

The idea that New York State wineries would receive preferential treatment by chain grocery stores is about as viable as basing your household budget on winning the lottery. A grocery store's product placement decision is based on proven sales velocity and return on investment. Grocery stores have limited shelf space reserved for faster-moving wines and will ultimately offer less selection than available in local wine shops.

For the consumer, the reality is that wine in grocery stores doesn't increase convenience. The most convenient place, for many reasons, is our neighborhood wine shop. Within that store are owners and employees who have spent time learning about the wines offered and are willing to make suggestions. They regularly rotate their inventory so that it is kept fresh; wine is not a long-term shelf stable item. They look for new wines from around the world for us to enjoy and, most importantly, they are our neighbors, contributing back to our communities. Our economy needs to be stimulated via sound, long-term investment and not short-term fixes such as this.

Mark C. Tramont

Town of Tonawanda

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True cost of health 'reform' much higher than estimated

The fact that low enrollment in the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan of the health care reform law comes as a surprise to those in the White House and supporters in Congress is just the latest proof that they had little understanding of health insurance and the system they were trying to "fix" and that their cost estimates for this "reform" will be way short of the true costs to the taxpayers.

The chief actuary for the Medicare program (a person who should have known better) had predicted that 375,000 people would sign up for these new insurance plans by the end of 2010. Instead, only 8,000 people had enrolled by early November -- just 2 percent of the number predicted. As a former marketing manager for Blue Cross, I knew the government was misrepresenting the number of people with pre-existing conditions who would sign up for and "benefit" from this program. The premiums for such people have to be high to cover the illnesses they already have and the procedures they will need; too high for most of them to afford.

And the cost of the care for these people is far outrunning the projections of Washington. This means that the $5 billion allocated by Congress to support the program will be far short of the true cost, especially if larger numbers of people do sign up for the coverage. In other words, "Obamacare" was drafted by people who have little real understanding of health care or health insurance and their projections of its cost are totally unreliable. Like Medicare, the projected costs when enacted will be a small fraction of the true costs and lead to rationing of care and poorer care for most Americans.

Richard F. Teetsel

Tonawanda

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Watching TV is no fun with glut of commercials

There presently is another rate increase in the works from our television cable provider. In my opinion, there is another part of this ever-rising rates discussion that we need to address. Most people originally signed on to cable to get away from commercials. Now we buy our expensive high-definition flat-screen televisions so that ad writers can take them over completely and impose their will upon us? And we must continue to pay more and more for this? There are so many ads being strung together in a row now -- five, six, seven -- that many people lose track of what they are watching and have to have a recap after the ads so the programs make sense.

I wonder if the writers and producers of these breathless, "exciting," "today only" commercials assume we carry pen and paper around with us to write down the multitude of 800 numbers coming our way. Not to mention the overuse of superlatives in these ads making the English language more and more useless.

The groans being heard because of these commercial intrusions are becoming louder; becoming more than many people can stand, and more and more people are beginning to turn their televisions off for good.

If we are going to be forced to pay ever higher prices for less and less actual programming and more and more oppressive ads, when do we reach the breaking point? I believe some are very close to that point right now.

Ron Wilson

East Amherst

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