Currently, Kentucky faces a $169 million shortfall in the $4 billion Medicaid program that pays for health-care services for low-income residents. The shortfall already has resulted in the ejection of some elderly people from nursing homes and the loss of benefits for other Kentuckians.
Rather than propose new taxes to make up this shortfall, Fletcher has focused on ways to cut health-care costs while improving services. A major difference between Chandler and Fletcher on the health-care issue is medical malpractice reform.
The skyrocketing cost of malpractice insurance is not only increasing the cost of health care it is forcing many doctors either to quit providing such high-risk services as delivering babies or take their practices to other states where insurance is cheaper. Eight hundred physicians have left the state in the past three years, many of them to practice in Indiana where they pay anywhere from a half to a tenth as much for insurance.
This physician flight not only effects the availability and cost of health care, but it hurts the state's economy by sending good-paying medical jobs elsewhere.
Fletcher has proposed a constitutional amendment that would give the state legislature the power to do something about this problem, including placing limits on the amount of punitive damages juries could award in malpractice lawsuits. Chandler has opposed such an amendment, although both candidates agree on the setting up of medical review panels that would weed out frivilous lawsuits.
Fletcher argues convincingly, we think, that without limits on damages the review panels will be ineffective. There will be no incentive for the lawyers representing plaintiffs in malpractice cases to accept the decisions of the review panels when they can go for the big jackpot in court.
On the Medicaid issue, Fletcher has a raft of proposals that actually would improve benefits for Medicaid recipients while cutting costs for the taxpayers. He has proposed an increased focus on preventative care rather than treatment that promises to not only make Kentuckians healthier but to cut costs. More details on his proposals are available at his campaign Web site at www.fletcher2003.com.
The essential fact that voters need to remember Nov. 4 is that on the health-care issue Fletcher is speaking from firsthand knowledge about the issue combined with a physcian's commitment to taking care of people. That gives him an substantial edge over his opponent on this important issue.