FRANKFORT — A state Senate panel approved along party lines Wednesday a bill to set up medical review panels in hopes of curbing frivolous lawsuits against nursing homes.
Senate Bill 9 generated strong testimony from proponents and opponents, but those against the proposal only got to speak after the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took a 7-4 vote to send the bill to the full Senate.
Chairwoman Julie Denton, R-Louisville, said that was done because several committee members had to leave to attend other meetings.
In a floor speech later in the day, Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said it was "blatantly wrong" for the Senate committee to vote on the bill without hearing from its opponents.
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The measure would set up medical review panels to hear complaints against long-term care facilities. Each panel would be made up of one attorney and three physicians. The attorney would serve as panel chairperson but would not be able to vote.
Each side represented in the case would select a panelist, with the third panelist being agreed to by the other two physicians. The panel would then offer an opinion on whether the evidence supports a complaint against the nursing home.
Denton said the panel would be advisory and its opinion would be admissible in court. She predicted that this would mean fewer frivolous lawsuits.
The Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities said personal injury lawyers are misleading Kentuckians and filing predatory lawsuits in hopes of collecting massive fees. Fighting frivolous suits costs "precious resources that could be spent providing care for our resident," the association said.
Jim Kimbrough, volunteer president of AARP Kentucky, said his group was pleased that similar legislation failed in last year's legislative session.
"We're working to make certain they stay the course in the 2013 session," he said.
The bill, Kimbrough said, "is wrong for Kentucky and will make it harder for nursing home residents or their families to seek justice and accountability through our court system.
He said the measure would "discourage nursing home residents and their families to go to court with a legitimate claim of abuse or neglect."