FRANKFORT — The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved by 7-3 vote a bill Wednesday that would create panels of medical experts to review proposed legal claims against health care providers.
Committee chairwoman Julie Denton said the full Senate might vote on the measure as soon as Thursday.
Denton, the sponsor of Senate Bill 119, said the proposal was designed to eliminate meritless medical malpractice suits that are "running doctors and other providers out of the state" because of the high cost of fighting them.
The measure has the support of several major health care providers and business organizations in the state, including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, but is opposed by advocates for the elderly.
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Jim Kimbrough, president of AARP in Kentucky, said the bill would delay justice for people who have been harmed by medical malpractice. Also opposing the bill were Wanda Delaplain of Frankfort and Patrick Clinch of Scott County, who told lawmakers that members of their families did not receive adequate health care.
Under the bill, 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 court, according to backers of the bill.
Kentucky Chamber of Commerce president David Adkisson told the committee that some law firms are treating medical malpractice lawsuits "like ATM machines."
Frankfort attorney Larry Forgy, who represents 13 nursing homes, told the committee they "are doing the Lord's work" by passing the measure.
Also testifying in support of the bill were Dr. Andy Henderson, CEO of the Lexington Clinic; Dr. Glenn Loomis of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Northern Kentucky; and Louisville attorney Michael Sutton.
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.