Tort Reform Proposal Reportedly Lacking; Misses the Mark on Fundamental System Problems

December 19, 2003

Dr. Jeff Collins, president of the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA), issued the following statement on the release Thursday morning by the Governor, and House Majority Leaders of their “tort reform” package:

“It is gratifying to know that the Governor, leaders in the House of Representatives now recognize that we face a crisis in this state that is reducing patients’ access to health care.

“We are deeply disappointed, however, that the proposals offered this morning fail to address the fundamental problems of the tort system – which are resulting in skyrocketing premiums that are forcing physicians to limit high risk services or stop practicing medicine altogether.

“Physicians are not interested in illusions that solve nothing and which please no one except those personal injury attorneys who richly benefit from the status quo.

“The voters of this state support tangible tort reform, and we hope the legislators and other elected officials will respond with real change that deals with the underlying problems of the system, not its symptoms. Failure to enact meaningful reform – including a cap on non-economic damages – will adversely affect access to care and drive up health care costs. Every citizen of the state will suffer.

“The WSMA and its 9,000 members remain committed to working with community hospitals, the state hospital association, and other members of the Liability Reform Coalition (LRC) to restore balance and fairness to the tort system. This package doesn’t do it.” The proposal announced in Olympia focuses on insurance reform and liability insurance issues and a variety of “patient safety” initiatives. The major element of insurance reform appears to be creation of a patient compensation fund. Says Collins, “these funds have been tried elsewhere. They do not lower costs. Physicians and hospitals end up paying two premiums, one to the insurer and another to the fund. Meanwhile, personal injury attorneys and other costs continue to eat up over half of every premium dollar.”

The proposal also reportedly misses the mark on patient safety issues, according to the WSMA president.

“The WSMA and physicians strongly support patient safety and error reduction projects. The hard truth is that today’s crisis is caused by out of control jury verdicts and settlements.”

The WSMA and the LRC reportedly support a tort reform package that will improve access to necessary health care by including actuarially sound policy proven to make liability insurance more affordable and to speed more money to patients injured by proven negligence. The medical liability elements of this package, to be introduced again in the 2004 legislative session, include:

— A $250,000 cap on non-economic damages (and no cap whatsoever on economic damages);

— Advance notice of claim;

— A revised statute of repose;

— A sliding scale for personal injury attorneys’ fees;

— Required evidence of collateral source payments;

— Binding arbitration of disputes;

— Periodic payments of future damages;

— Ostensible agency reform for hospitals and other health care
facilities, and;

“These changes will ensure that patients’ physicians will be there for them. They will reduce waste and unnecessary expense, and restore balance to the system,” added Collins.

The WSMA and LRC reform package also will include funding a patient safety/medical error reduction program.

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