Ky. health and business groups unite in hopes of curbing 'meritless' malpractice lawsuits

jbrammer@herald-leader.comJanuary 23, 2014 

FRANKFORT — Several major health care providers and business organizations in Kentucky have formed a new coalition in hopes of eliminating "meritless" medical malpractice lawsuits.

The new group, called Care First Kentucky Coalition, will push for legislation that would create medical review panels to review proposed claims against health care providers.

The state's nursing home industry has backed similar legislation in the two previous legislative sessions, when the proposal passed along party lines in the Republican-led Senate but failed to get out of committee in the Democrat-led House.

"Now is the time for Kentucky to say enough is enough to the meritless lawsuits which are having a huge impact on health care costs, a major concern for Kentucky businesses," Dave Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said in a news release. "Our neighboring states have already addressed this problem through common-sense reforms, and it is time we do the same."

Review panels would have three medical experts. Each side represented in the case would select a panelist, and the third would be selected by the other two experts.

The panel would render an opinion on whether standards of care were violated. It would not make a finding of fact or conclusion of law, but its opinion would be admissible in court.

Cases would be reviewed within six months, ensuring a timely process while protecting the plaintiff's access to the court, according to a news release issued by the coalition.

Senate Health and Welfare Chairwoman Julie Denton, R-Louisville, said Thursday she is working with the new coalition and expects to file the proposed bill by the end of the month.

"More groups on board, I'm hopeful, will give it a better chance of passage in the House. I am confident it will pass the Senate," she said.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, was not immediately available for comment.

AARP Kentucky has opposed similar bills in past legislative sessions, claiming that the proposal would make it harder for patients or their families to seek justice and accountability through the court system.

Scott Wegenast, associate director of AARP Kentucky, said Thursday that his group has not yet seen this year's bill, "but we still are concerned about access to the courts."

The coalition said the increasing cost of medical malpractice liability insurance and civil litigation is "a burden for Kentucky's health care and business communities and diverts critical funds away from care to line the pockets of personal-injury lawyers."

The legislation would "help stabilize" the state's medical malpractice system, making Kentucky more attractive to employers and helping retain "quality physicians," said Dr. Fred A. Williams Jr., president of the Kentucky Medical Association.

The coalition said medical review panels have been used in other states, including Indiana, to quickly validate legitimate claims and expose meritless claims before "clogging the court system."

Health care providers who have joined the new coalition include the Kentucky Hospital Association, the Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians, the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities, Leading Age Kentucky, the Kentucky Dental Association, the Kentucky Pharmacists Association, the Kentucky Assisted Living Facilities Association, Signature Healthcare and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Northern Kentucky.

Business organizations in the new coalition include the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Greater Louisville Inc., Commerce Lexington, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Hardin County Chamber of Commerce and Partnership for Commonsense Justice.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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