Fla. Coalition Praises Med-Mal Task Force Report

February 5, 2003

The Coalition to Heal Healthcare in Florida, which includes Florida’s hospitals, doctors and major business groups, applauded the final report of a task force studying the state’s medical liability crisis, saying its proposals will help lower healthcare costs for everyone and protect patients from losing crucial medical services.

Now that the task force has issued a blueprint for fixing the broken medical liability system, it is essential that the Florida Legislature adopt these reforms during the annual session that begins March 4 to prevent this crisis from worsening, coalition leaders say.

“We are grateful that task force members objectively and independently studied this issue and concluded that this crisis is already harming Floridians by increasing healthcare costs and threatening patients’ ability to obtain healthcare services,” Wayne NeSmith, President of the Florida Hospital Association (FHA), said.

“The task force has given the Legislature a roadmap to solving our state’s problem. They’ve addressed all the important pieces—putting reasonable parameters on litigation, creating a stable insurance market and improving patient safety. Now it’s up to state lawmakers to pass these recommendations this spring. Our lawmakers can’t sit back and let this fester another year, because this crisis is deepening by the day,” NeSmith added, speaking on behalf of the Coalition to Heal Healthcare in Florida.

Governor Jeb Bush created the Select Task Force on Healthcare Professional Liability Insurance in late August 2002. Chaired by John C. Hitt, president of the University of Central Florida, the task force included other highly respected members of the state’s university system: Marshall Criser Jr., president emeritus of the University of Florida; Richard Beard, a trustee of the University of South Florida; Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami; and Fred Gainous, president of Florida A&M University.

The task force issued its final report, which totaled more than 300 pages, on Tuesday. In response, the coalition praised many of its recommendations.

One proposal would cap non-economic damages awarded in medical liability cases at $250,000. The coalition believes this would help make the system more predictable, thus encouraging insurers to return to Florida and lead to more stable premium increases.

Another proposal would provide new legal protections to emergency room doctors who are required by law to treat all patients who arrive for treatment, regardless of ability to pay.

A third proposal supported by the coalition would eliminate “joint and several liability,” allowing defendants to pay their fair share and not the liability of others—eliminating the ability to go after “deep pocket” defendants. Yet another proposal would allow doctors and hospitals to pay damages to injured patients over time, rather than in a lump sum.

NeSmith noted that task force members spent months taking hours of testimony around the state from dozens of witnesses and amassed a considerable body of evidence prior to issuing its final report. In particular, he praised the fair-minded coordination of the task force by William Large, the General Counsel of the Florida Department of Health, who also served as Staff Director of the task force.

“The task force members and William Large deserve a thank-you from all Floridians for dedicating their time and their energies to finding solutions to this complex problem,” NeSmith said. “Together, they’ve given us a sound, reasonable set of recommendations that will allow injured patients to be justly compensated while protecting healthcare for all of us. Now it’s time for the Legislature to get busy and address this issue seriously. We believe that fair reform is within our reach if we all work together.”

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