Washington News

Washington doctors, lawyers continue to argue medical malpractice initiatives

Dispute over Washington’s costly medical malpractice debate continues to gain momentum, but some critics question if there is clear evidence of what is driving malpractice insurance rates to begin with.

Doctors claim unfair jury verdicts and skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums are driving them out of the state. Pushing proposal Initiative 330, which would put a cap on the amount of pain and suffering awarded to a victim of medical malpractice, doctors hope voters will support the $350,000 limit for doctors, hospitals, mental health clinics, drug and alcohol treatment centers and nursing homes on Nov. 8.

The cap allows few exceptions on the pain and suffering cap, but it still allows full recovery for actual medical costs and lost wages. The doctor backed initiative would also limit the amount of money lawyers can earn on any damages won in court.

Trial lawyers and consumer advocates contend I-330 threatens patient health because of “fine print” included in the proposal that push to benefit insurance companies. Instead of ensuring patient safety, I-330 would harm patients by limiting their legal right to get justice when they are injured or a relative is killed by a medical provider’s negligence.

In addition, critics of I-330 claim many injured patients would be left without a lawyer willing to take on the cost of medical liability lawsuits, letting some negligent doctors and hospitals off as a result. Trial lawyers and consumer groups have introduced Initiative 336 to limit insurance fee increases and to punish negligent doctors.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is frustrated with the medical malpractice debate, saying he thinks too little is know about why malpractice insurance rates are really increasing. According to Kreidler, he thinks rates have been driven by the economy, and in an interview last week, he recommend both initiatives be opposed to allow legislature to continue to try to work out a compromise between the two sides.

Regardless of Kreidler’s recommendations, the two campaigns have already raised more than $8 million, and the issues will continue to be highly battled. Doctors say malpractice insurance costs are skyrocketing because of legal costs to defend against malpractice suits and high jury awards, but a study conducted by the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner of closed malpractice claims found that just 1.6 percent to 1.7 percent of payouts were more than $1 million during the past 10 years.

The study also found the number of claims settled increased by 4.9 percent yearly and the average amount of settlement rose 4.1 percent, producing 9.1 percent yearly increase in costs over the decade. These increases, according to Kreidler, were in line with medical inflation rates. Arguments have left voters confused about what the issues really are, but come Nov. 8, they will have to decide which side, if any, they wish to take.

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