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Sunday, July 25, 2004

Economic Development - Stories Today

Power Plants. The Munster Times has a lengthy and important story today about the possibility of a permanent shutdown of the NIPSCO Mitchell Generating Plant on Lake Michigan. Some quotes:

One side envisions a glittering convention center, high-rise hotels and "Disney-on-the-Lake" at the shores of Lake Michigan. The other fears electric rates could go up for everyone from little old grandmas to the largest industrial employers in northern Indiana. * * *

Since 1999, when the city paid $25 million for the Lehigh cement factory, [Gary Mayor Scott King] and Majestic Star Casino owner Don Barden have been promoting a "city-within-a-city" along the lakefront to the east of Buffington Harbor. The first phase would include a high-rise hotel, outdoor amphitheater and marina.

Standing in the way of bigger plans is a limestone processing plant and the Mitchell generating station. King also says he wants to take the Mitchell plant and its smokestacks down to allow for lengthening a runway at the Gary/Chicago International Airport to the south.

The whole question was dumped into the lap of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission on May 7, when the city of Gary asked the commission to set a price on the Mitchell plant and establish terms and conditions for acquiring it.

The struggle over Gary's plans to seize or buy the shuttered Dean H. Mitchell electric generating station on the shores of Lake Michigan highlights the difficult choices ahead in Northwest Indiana's drive to convert slag heaps into playgrounds..

Medical Malpractice. A major story in the Indianapolis Star today reports: "Insurance hikes deter state's baby doctors: As rates multiply, more physicians limit practice to gynecology." The story lays the problem at the doorstep of the state Department of Insurance. Some quotes:
Nobody has exact numbers, but physicians throughout Indiana are getting out of the baby business because of rising malpractice insurance costs, even though Indiana still has among the lowest malpractice rates in the country.

Many doctors think the state contributed to the problem.

A fund created to keep malpractice rates low and prevent a problem in the first place was almost depleted before the state Department of Insurance ordered a 73 percent increase for all physicians.

"For us, these increases are huge," said Smirz, adding that most physicians could have handled incremental increases. "It's a lot when you consider cash flow in a medical practice."

The Patients' Compensation Fund was established in 1975, when Indiana became the first state to cap the amount of money a person could win in a malpractice lawsuit. In addition to carrying insurance, all physicians pay an annual surcharge to the fund. Damage awards exceeding a physician's insurance coverage would be paid by the fund.

As a result, Indiana physicians enjoyed relatively predictable malpractice insurance costs for almost 30 years. Until now.

Doctors said they were stunned by the magnitude of the increase -- the kind of jump bedeviling physicians in other states but almost unheard of in Indiana.

How did this happen?
When the award cap was raised to $1.25 million in 1999, the Department of Insurance was directed to conduct periodic reviews to ensure the fund was collecting enough money to cover the semiannual payouts.

The first review since 1999 was completed last summer. By then, the fund was in such dire straits that an emergency increase was required. The fund balance dwindled from almost $118 million in 1999 to $4.3 million last year.

"We were very disappointed it ended up to be such a large increase," said Amy Strati, acting director of the Insurance Department. She said the review, begun in 2002, was delayed by an old computer system. It since has been replaced, and reviews will be completed annually, she said.

Although the current increase was implemented in August, most physicians' policies did not come due until January or July, which is why some didn't stop obstetrics until this year. Neurosurgeons and obstetricians pay the highest surcharges, but obstetricians already were stressed by shrinking reimbursements for births, physicians said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 25, 2004 03:57 PM
Posted to Indiana economic development