AMA Throws Backing Behind ‘Keep Our Doctors in Nevada’ Ballot Initiative

March 23, 2004

The American Medical Association recently announced its support for a November ballot initiative, known as “Keep Our Doctors in Nevada,” that will allow voters to enact reforms to protect the state’s health care system and help keep medical liability premium costs down.

“The citizens of Nevada will be presented with a very important decision in November – critical to ensuring access to medical care in their state,” said AMA President Donald Palmisano, M.D. “This measure gives voters the opportunity to put an out-of-control legal system back in check and make sure that doctors can afford to continue to practice and care for patients in Nevada.”

If passed, the initiative would reportedly amend Nevada’s existing law by enacting proven liability reforms similar to California’s 1975 MICRA law. MICRA has reportedly been instrumental in keeping California’s liability rates down for decades.

For example, in Los Angeles, an ob-gyn typically pays about $60,000 per year for liability insurance, while a Las Vegas ob-gyn, where proven reforms are not yet in place, reportedly pays as much as $141,000 per year.

Palmisano noted that Nevada laws passed in 2002 proved to contain too many loopholes and exceptions to be effective. In fact, rather than stabilize the legal system, Nevada’s untested medical liability laws spurred a significant rush to sue. There has been a reported dramatic increase in lawsuits filed against health care providers.

For example, in Clark County, the number of suits rose from 372 filed in 2001 to 1,116 filed in 2003, according to court data compiled by Clark County Medical Society.

High liability premiums are overwhelming physicians in Nevada and in 18 other states across the country. There are 25 other states reportedly showing signs of problems. Doctors are being forced to discontinue certain procedures, including delivering babies. The cost of insurance is also reportedly driving physicians into early retirement or out of the state entirely.

The “Keep Our Doctors in Nevada” ballot initiative, named after the
physician-led group spearheading the measure, is part of a broad physician, patient, hospital and business coalition. If passed, the ballot initiative would reportedly be the first cap on non-economic damages in medical liability cases in the country that was directly approved by voters and would include the following changes to existing law:

— Create a hard cap on non-economic damages of $350,000;
— Limit attorneys’ fees to 40 percent of the first $50,000 won, 33.3 percent of the next $50,000, 25 percent of the next $500,000, and 15 percent of amounts more than $600,000;
— Allow damages totaling more than $50,000 to be paid in installments, rather than in one lump sum;
— Hold doctors financially responsible only for their percentage of fault in the injury.

Palmisano was in Las Vegas last week as part of the AMA’s National House Call. The AMA president highlighted the need to close current loopholes in the law and pass meaningful reforms.

“While the AMA supports federal legislation that includes a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, we think this ballot initiative is an important step in the right direction for Nevada patients,” added Palmisano.

In addition, Palmisano pointed out that Nevada patients overwhelmingly support medical liability reforms. A May 2003 poll conducted by the “Keep Our Doctors In Nevada” group reportedly found that more than 80 percent of voters said they would support reasonable reforms, including a limit on non-economic damages
and trial lawyer contingency fees.

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