Fla. Med-Mal Talks Underway

July 16, 2003

Key Florida House and Senate leaders met into the evening Tuesday trying to agree on a non-economic damages cap and other major issues standing in the way of final legislative approval of a package to fix the state’s medical malpractice insurance crisis, according to the Florida Insurance Council (FIC). There is no final deal yet, but major progress has reportedly been made the last several days.

FIC lobbyists said Senate President Jim King is holding out for a $500,000 minimum cap on non-economic damages and is unwilling to accept a $250,000 cap in any form, including the iteration approved by the House last week. There are other major issues, as well—a state fund to provide med-mal insurance; an insurance rate rollback requirement; sovereign immunity for emergency rooms; new standards for insurance company bad faith liability; and language reversing the Florida Supreme Court decision establishing liability for HMO in med mal lawsuits.

Special Session C is scheduled to end at midnight Wednesday. Because progress has been made on dozens of second tier issues and talks continue on the big issues, an extension is possible, although no firm plans for one have been announced.

The special session could be extended through the end of this week or the middle of next week. Rank-and-file legislators, who are back in their districts, would return to pass the malpractice package worked out by House and Senate leaders.

Another possibility is that the current special session expires and negotiations continue until July 22, when Special Session D is scheduled to begin, if necessary. Bush, as part of his strategy to force agreement on a med-mal package which he finds acceptable, has already scheduled special sessions through September.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday began taking sworn testimony from the various stakeholders in the med-mal debate, including Robert White, chief operating officer, First Professionals Insurance Company, Jacksonville.

Senate leaders insisted that the hearings showed doctors are not leaving the state and emergency rooms are not being shut down because of high med-mal insurance rates. They also questioned the oversight given insurance rate increases by the state Office of Insurance Regulation and the endorsement contract between FPIC and the Florida Medical Association.

Steve Roddenberry, deputy director, OIR, said the rate increases approved by the state have been appropriate. The documentation from insurance companies is scrutinized by department actuaries or consulting actuaries as part of the rate-making process and during the state’s examination of insurers every three years and is reliable and accurate, he said.

FMA and Florida Hospital Association officials stood firm behind their views that health care access is dwindling because of med-mal premiums and said figures on the number of licensed doctors and applications for licenses obtained by the committee are misleading. The FMA and FPIC’s White said the endorsement agreement is appropriate and is not uncommon.

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