While most of the attention this election season - both paid and unpaid - has gone to the race for the White House, Ohio voters need to be just as informed about the significance of the three open seats being contested on the Ohio Supreme Court.
Of note during the court's current conservative makeup has been the upholding of the state's most sweeping reforms to medical malpractice liability, including a reasonable cap on non-economic damages, i.e. ''pain and suffering,'' passed in 2003.
The cap has helped curb the skyrocketing price of medical malpractice insurance for Ohio's physicians, a cost that effectively trickles down to all consumers of health care in the state in the form of higher medical costs, reduced access to physicians, exposure to medically unnecessary tests and a shortage of specialists in high-risk disciplines such as obstetrics and neurology.
From a health care perspective, a change in the composition of the court in November could be a prescription for disaster. Need evidence? One need only to look at the ''Show Me'' state to see a scenario that can realistically be duplicated here.
In August of this year, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the state's $350,000 cap on non-economic damages that can be awarded by a jury in a medical malpractice case. In a 4-3 decision the court ruled that the state's limit on the amount juries may award someone injured from medical malpractice violated the constitutional right to a jury trial.
Please note, we're not talking about past and future medical damages for a patient. That's a separate component of malpractice liability and is not in dispute. Legitimately injured patients are rightfully entitled to those awards. We're referring to the more liberally defined ''pain and suffering'' claims often encouraged and inflated by plaintiffs' attorneys.
Missouri's State Medical Association president justifiably criticized the August decision, saying it ''turns back the clock to a time when a medical lawsuit crisis had pushed Missouri doctors to the breaking point. Scores of physicians moved away, and access to health care was threatened in every corner of the state.'' Further, he said, the damages cap helped stabilize the state's once-erratic insurance market, which, in turn, drew more physicians to Missouri and improved access to care.
We're headed on a similar course in Ohio. Even with recently passed reforms, the high cost of medical liability insurance has contributed to the erosion of patients' access to physicians in our state - including here in the Mahoning Valley. I've seen colleagues retire, relocate or otherwise change their practices to limit their exposure to medical malpractice risk.
Electing liberal-leaning Supreme Court justices can lead to greater pain and suffering for all Ohioans who want access to quality, affordable health care, ''Obamacare'' not withstanding. One person's windfall creates a hardship for the rest of us.
Removing the non-economic damages cap in Ohio - and don't think liberal justices won't look for the first opportunity to do so - would quickly erode the modest reduction in medical liability insurance rates we've achieved since 2006, encourage frivolous malpractice claims and ultimately put Ohio at a disadvantage for recruiting the best physicians to practice here.
Keep the conservatives on the bench. Cast your Ohio Supreme Court justice votes for Terrence O'Donnell, Robert R. Cupp and Sharon L. Kennedy.
Loges is president of the Trumbull County Medical Society.