Last week we discussed tort reform and Republican plans to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. A part of their plans may include a controversial proposal led by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who has recently been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to become the top health official in the nation. His controversial proposal would fund “state-run tribunals” that would rule on injury claims. In essence, it would “require patients to prove gross negligence by doctors, a higher legal standard than in civil court,” and would create review panels made up of healthcare providers to “screen cases for merit.” While Price’s proposals have yet to come to fruition, individual states, like Kentucky, are beginning to introduce legislation to reign in control over medical malpractice claims.
Republican State Senator, Ralph Alvarado of Kentucky is now sponsoring Senate Bill 4, a bill that “would require medical malpractice lawsuits first to be heard by review panels comprised of health providers” before being filed in Kentucky courts.
The bill was introduced in response to what Republicans call “frivolous lawsuits” in the healthcare industry. According to Alvarado, “the legal climate in Kentucky has become so toxic that doctors practice defensive medicine just to protect themselves. They order tests they would never have before just to cover themselves, and the cost of medical care is going up as a result.”
But how would the bill work? Well for starters, any proposed medical malpractice or neglect lawsuits would be submitted to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services where a four-person panel would be selected to review any written evidence related to the claim. Making up the panel would be a lawyer and three healthcare providers. From there, the panel would have up to six months to “issue an opinion about the claim’s merits.” There are three primary opinions the panel can issue, including:
- Medical Providers Did Nothing Wrong
- Medical Providers Erred But Did Not Substantially Harm Their Patient
- Medical Providers Did Cause Harm To Their Patient
In court, the panel’s opinion would be considered an admissible piece of evidence. However, there are some who have concerns about legislation like this, such as Sen. Reginald Thomas of Lexington who stated: “I believe that every citizen in this commonwealth should have access to the courthouse door. Every citizen should have the right to be heard.” He added, “in states that have enacted review panels, plaintiffs have seen up to a two-year delay before they could get their claim into court.”
Opponents of legislation like Senate Bill 4 claim that Republicans are trying to make something out of nothing. According to researchers and industry experts, the nation’s medical malpractice insurance industry is running smoothly and claims aren’t causing the insanely high healthcare costs that Republicans are claiming. In fact, according to the National Practitioner Data Bank, the amount of money awarded in medical malpractice claims in Kentucky is on the decline, from “$61 million in 2005 to $41 million in 2015.”
Despite opposition, the bill is expected to proceed to the Senate floor. Regardless of the outcome, bills like Senate Bill 4 are sure to be common this year as Republicans attempt to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.