Arizona News

Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report summarizes recent medical malpractice developments

Medical malpractice issues continue to present controversy across the country. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report featured recent medical malpractice developments in five states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio.

In Arizona, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a law restricting expert witnesses who testify in Arizona medical malpractice lawsuits, according to the Arizona Daily Star . Under the law, only licensed health care providers in the same specialty as the defendant can serve as expert witnesses in malpractice lawsuits. Doctors, under the law, can also apologize to patients without concerns that plaintiffs could use the statements as evidence in malpractice lawsuits. Supported by the Arizona Medical Association, the Arizona Trial Lawyer Association will likely challenge the legislation as unconstitutional.

In Connecticut, state lawmakers, doctors and attorneys have met to discuss two bills intended to seek reduced Connecticut medical malpractice insurance rates for doctors. One of the bills approved earlier this month by the state Judiciary Committee would require individuals who plan to file medical malpractice lawsuits to first obtain an expert medical opinion in support of the complaint. The legislation would also reduce the interest rate on malpractice settlements paid over time from 12 percent to 8 percent and require hospitals to follow patient safety procedures.

A bill that the state Public Health Committee approved would mandate mediation for Connecticut medical malpractice complaints and would require malpractice insurers to obtain approval from the state insurance commissioner before increasing premium rates. Individuals planning on filing malpractice lawsuits would be required to obtain an expert medical opinion in support of the complaint and reduce the interest rate on malpractice settlements paid over time. The State House Speaker James Amann said he hopes to have a compromise bill prepared for debate in the full state House within two weeks.

In Florida, the state Senate Health Care Committee voted 8-1 to approve a bill that would cap damages in Florida medical malpractice lawsuits against the University of Miami and six teaching hospitals in the state, according to the Miami Herald . Under the legislation, the teaching hospitals would assume all medical liability for physicians and hospitals and would receive sovereign immunity, which would cap damages in malpractice lawsuits against them at $150,000. Currently, Jackson Memorial Hospital, a public facility, has sovereign immunity, but UM physicians practicing at the facility do not.

The other private, not for profit teaching hospitals do not have sovereign immunity, but physicians from the state universities of Florida and South Florida who practice at the hospitals have immunity. The state Agency for Health Care Administration would certify that hospitals have made efforts to reduce errors before they could receive a sovereign immunity, according to Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report . Last year, a similar bill failed in the state Legislature, and the new legislation will have the same struggles. Opponents of the Florida medical malpractice legislation believe it could unfairly punish malpractice victims of compensation they are otherwise entitled to.

In New Hampshire, the state House Judiciary Committed heard testimony on a bill that would establish a screening panel similar to one already in place in Maine. The testimony was heard on April 26 and is intended to separate valid New Hampshire medical malpractice cases from those with questionable merit. Approved by the state Senate earlier this month, the measure would require all cases to be reviewed by a panel consisting of a lawyer, a physician and a retired judge.

If passed, a New Hampshire medical malpractice trial could include a unanimous decision on the case's merit, but House members in April approved a competing measure that would require only a retired judge preside at an early stage to determine if the doctor was liable. Under this bill, the finding would stay private, and both sides in the potential medical malpractice case would be required to take their case to a mediator before proceeding to trial.

In Ohio, the state Medical Malpractice Commission recommended a system be implemented to report and track medical errors. The nine-member commission, which met monthly for two years to examine the issue of rising medical malpractice insurance premium rates, also recommended creating a pilot program that would establish a special medical malpractice court or court docket to allow judges to concentrate more on medical malpractice cases involving much more technicality.

The commission also said a $500,000 limit on noneconomic damages that state legislators enacted in 2003 has not been in place long enough to determine its impact. The panel did not support a proposal requiring malpractice lawsuits to be prescreened by a state panel. According to Ohio Department of Insurance Director Ann Womer Benjamin, a medical error reporting system could be introduced this year.

Medical malpractice issues have, and will continue, to create heated debates between opposing sides. As more legislation is introduced and debated on, the outcomes can have significant impacts on the way medical malpractice legislation is approached, as well as how it impacts the most injured victims of negligent acts.

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