Fla. State Senators Receive Messages to End Medical Liability Crisis

April 16, 2003

Florida’s state senators began receiving the first batch of “a million messages” from constituents Wednesday urging them to join Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida House in fixing the broken medical liability system.

The messages came in the form of signed postcards that were delivered starting at 11 a.m. to senators’ district offices statewide. Senators received thousands of postcards in the first wave of deliveries, but will ultimately receive one million postcards.

“Senators are going to receive a million messages from their constituents that center on two themes,” said Wayne NeSmith, president of the Florida Hospital Association and a leader in the Coalition to Heal Healthcare in Florida.

“First, constituents are letting each senator know that they’re being hurt by the medical liability crisis back home, and that the hurt will grow much worse if the Senate doesn’t help them out,” NeSmith said. “Second, constituents are saying that Governor Bush, the governor’s task force of university leaders and the Florida House all support significant reform measures, and it is now time for the Senate to act.”

The one million postcards were distributed through hospitals statewide by the Coalition to Heal Healthcare in Florida. Those who have signed the cards include hospital employees, medical staffs, patients, hospital auxiliary members and the general public.

Coalition leaders say they hope that the sheer volume of postcards will help educate senators that there is a broad public desire to see the Senate become part of the solution in solving the medical liability crisis.

The Florida Legislature is recessing today for three days for the Easter and Passover holidays. But with just two weeks left before the May 2 scheduled end of the session, the prospects of the Legislature passing measures to fix the broken system are uncertain.

Governor Jeb Bush has called on House and Senate members to pass sweeping reforms that are supported by the coalition. The governor’s task force of university leaders studied the issue for months and issued 60 recommendations in late January that serve as a blueprint for ending the crisis.

On March 21, the House passed by a 95-19 vote a comprehensive reform bill, HB 1713. The bill mandates new patient safety initiatives, enhances physician discipline, creates new oversight of insurance rates and new insurance options for doctors, and brings new balance to the legal system, including a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages awarded in medical liability crisis.

But the House and Senate remain far apart on the issue, and it is unclear whether the Senate will even consider HB 1713. Over the past two weeks, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a package of bills that coalition leaders say will not solve the state’s crisis, and in some areas will actually make it worse.

John Thrasher, a former House Speaker who serves as the chief lobbyist for the coalition, warned senators, “every day, we hear more and more about folks who can’t get care.” Thrasher urged senators to amend their proposals and adopt the recommendations of the governor’s select task force and the House.

“I fear you’re going to have to come back for a special session,” Thrasher told senators. “You’re a long way from what the House of Representatives is proposing and a long way from solving these problems.”

Meanwhile, a prominent business member of the coalition told senators their proposals looked like a card game. “You’re giving people the illusion of reform,” said Art Simon, Senior Vice President of Associated Industries of Florida.

The tens of thousands of people who have signed postcards already will be watching closely how their senator votes, NeSmith said. “They’re saying, ‘we’re counting on you, and we have faith that you’ll find a way to reduce healthcare costs and protect the availability of healthcare for all of us,'” NeSmith added.

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