Legislators should stop doctors’ exodus
It appears the Legislature will take no action on medical malpractice proposals.
Once again, the Legislature is poised to walk away from the problem of soaring cost of medical malpractice insurance. Opponents of limiting noneconomic damage awards have produced nothing substantial to avoid a doctor drain caused by rises in malpractice insurance premiums.
Judiciary Chairman Tommy Waters denied a hearing on a bill that would put a cap on noneconomic damages -- usually called "pain and suffering" -- in malpractice lawsuits, saying a similar bill last year lacked support in his committee. He later apologized for joking about "the death of tort reform."
House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell supported Waters' decisions, saying Medicaid reimbursements and tax incentives are preferable to keep physicians from leaving. However, none of the bills passed from one chamber to the other in this session would provide a major deterrent.
The tort reform bill would have followed California's lead in placing a cap on noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits in 1975. The effectiveness of that law has been questioned by the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which maintains that malpractice premiums were brought under control by insurance regulation approved by voters in 1988.
Another organization, Californians Allied for Patient Protection, says that is a myth. It says that premiums were controlled after three years of court action following the California Supreme Court's 1985 ruling upholding the caps' constitutionality.
About half of Hawaii's physicians pay premiums to a California physicians-insurance company. Others are insured by a nonprofit association of doctors and a doctors' trust with rates regulated by the state, according to J.P. Schmidt, Hawaii's insurance commissioner, who favors caps. Legislators should examine the issue and take appropriate action next year.
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