Wisconsin Supreme Court Affirms Property Rights, Rebukes Governor Doyle

MacIver News Service | July 20, 2010 [Madison, Wisc…] In a 5-2 opinion released today, the State Supreme Court has affirmed the property rights of doctors and other health care providers. The Court, in a majority opinion by Justice David Prosser, ruled against the state’s transfer of $200 million from the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund.

“Because health care providers have protected property interests in the Fund, we conclude that § 9225 of 2007 Wis. Act 20 is unconstitutional because it authorizes an unconstitutional taking of private property without just compensation.”

The ruling, which Capitol observers say is a stunning rebuke of the Doyle Administration’s budgeting practices, reversed a lower court ruling and will force the state to reimburse the $200 million to the Fund. The State of Wisconsin currently has only $45 million in projected reserves on their books.

“Governor Doyle and his legislative followers broke a promise to families and the medical community when they raided the fund,” said State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette). “This raid has already driven up health care costs and is now going to contribute to an already huge state budget deficit.” 

State law requires doctors and hospitals to contribute to the fund to pay for medical malpractice claims that exceed the $1 million paid by private malpractice insurance. Until the raid, the fund has helped keep malpractice insurance costs lower than most  other states.

In October 2007, the state legislature approved a proposal from Governor Jim Doyle to balance the state budget by transferring $200 million from the Fund to pay for ongoing state operations.

The Wisconsin Medical Society filed suit. After losing their case in Dane County Circuit Court, the case was appealed. The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments on April of this year.

“We are extremely gratified with today’s Supreme Court ruling because it is a great victory for patients, their families and health care professionals across Wisconsin,” said Wisconsin Medical Society President Thomas Luetzow, MD. “This ruling sends an important message that the Fund is not a piggy bank. The raid was wrong, and justice has been served.”