by Dr. Linda Rasmussen www.AIHM-Maui.org
Hawaii Legislature yesterday advanced a bill to limit malpractice lawsuits. The measure would limit some damages for doctors in 5 specialties. The vote was a significant hurdle for doctors and other supporters of malpractice reform, since similar bills have died before the committee in the past. The bill was drafted as a compromise to get House approval and to encourage talks with the state Senate, where many senators are opposed.
Advocates believe the bill addresses one key reason for the flight of some doctors from the Islands. Yesterday's action positions the bill for a full House vote after several years where malpractice reform has idled. The bill would create a medical malpractice task force that would recommend caps on non-economic damages, such as emotional distress and loss of companionship, to lawmakers before the 2010 session. A separate medical malpractice insurance rate commission would recommend reasonable market-price malpractice insurance rates.
Lawmakers, responding to a request from the Hawai`i Medical Association, chose to cover doctors who practice emergency medicine, neurological surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, orthopedic surgery and general surgery.
The bill would expire in 2014, when it is hoped that data will show whether caps on damages reduce malpractice insurance rates and help persuade specialists to practice in Hawai`i."We really wanted to make the bill workable. Hopefully, we can talk to the Senate and see what they like and don't like," said state Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-41st (Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele), the committee's chairman. "I had to adjust it in order to get it out of the House. There were concerns from some of my members. They felt that caps wouldn't affect doctor retention."
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