Republicans Back Off Tort Reform Demands
Attempts to reform medical liability insurance and defensive medicine are going to take more time
May 6, 2011 – Republicans on the committee to transform the Oregon Health Plan signaled this week they might be willing to back off their immediate demands for tort reform.
Sen. Frank Morse (R-Albany) said he strongly recommends the Oregon Health Authority include in its proposal to come before lawmakers during the interim a plan to tackle the issue rather than try and negotiate a deal before the end of the session.
“There are those of us in the assembly who feel this problem has been put off and put off,” Morse said. “This is an opportunity.”
Efforts to reduce the costs of defensive medicine and medical malpractice insurance have historically been some of the most intractable issues at the state capitol.
Just this year, lawmakers proposed a bill that would cap non-economic damages (HB 3228) and another that would create a panel of experts to review pending malpractice cases (HB 3519). But both those efforts died.
A task force of two dozen experts under the Oregon Health Policy Board met throughout 2010 and delivered key recommendations to lawmakers. Among them was a proposal to create an administrative medical liability system similar to the workers' compensation system under the public corporation SAIF.
Dr. Chuck Hofmann served as the task force liaison as a member of the policy board. “We believe that proposal would have provided compensation to more injured patients with less jack pot justice,” Hofmann said. “We’d like to see the legislature fund a study or at least throw some money into it.”
But so far, nobody seems willing to do that giving the restraints on the state budget. Lawmakers did, however, include a provision in SB 95, which passed both chambers, that forces a malpractice insurer to defend claims brought about from disclosure of a mistake to patients.
Republicans on the Joint Committee on Health Care Transformation have said they want some sort of tort liability reform for doctors, especially those who'll be treating Oregon Health Plan patients under increasingly limited budgets. They had earlier signaled that otherwise they couldn’t vote for Governor Kitzhaber’s signature health policy proposal to reorganize the way care is delivered to Medicaid patients by creating coordinated care organizations.
Democrats, meanwhile, have balked at the idea of including tort reform. Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) said he felt Republicans were attempting to bog down the legislation.
“It’s a myth that most of the unnecessary procedures are the result of defensive medicine,” Greenlick said. “People do more because they get paid more.”
Doctors currently have no further protection treating patients under the Oregon Health Plan, or uninsured patients for that matter, when it comes to possibly getting sued for substandard care.
“I don’t know that that’s any greater or less of a problem than it is for the next person down the road,” Hofmann said. “The risk is there no matter what.”
To Learn More
For more information about the medical liability task force click here.
May 6 2011