Kentucky lawmakers are preparing for another debate on whether to shake up the state’s medical malpractice system, with some influential outside voices joining on both sides of the discussion.
A new coalition of health care and business groups this week urged the General Assembly to create medical review panels as a remedy against “meritless” malpractice lawsuits. The coalition includes the Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Medical Association and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
“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,” said Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Adkisson.
AARP Kentucky spoke out against a bill in 2013 to create review panels in malpractices cases involving nursing homes. That measure failed, and the group’s statewide president said Friday it will mobilize its supporters again to make sure the Legislature “stays the course” on the issue.
“What our state needs is to focus on improving the quality of care our seniors are receiving,” said AARP Kentucky state President Jim Kimbrough. “So far, we haven’t seen any evidence that similar legislation has improved the quality of care for nursing home residents.”
Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Julie Denton said she’s drafting a bill to create the panels of medical experts to weigh in on claims that health professionals violated standards of care.
Across the Capitol, House Speaker Greg Stumbo signaled Friday that he’s open to considering “some reasonable sort” of review panels in malpractice cases against nursing homes.
Stumbo laid out some conditions, however, saying the panel’s findings should not be admissible in court. Panel members could testify at trial, subject to cross-examination, the Prestonsburg Democrat said.
“But just to submit the findings to the jury, to me taints the jury pool,” Stumbo said. “If it goes to that point, the function of the jury is to sort through the evidence and determine … the verdict.”
Last year, the GOP-led Senate passed the legislation to create the review panels for malpractice cases targeting nursing homes. The measure died in the Democratic-controlled House.
Denton, R-Louisville, said she’s still working out details of the latest measure, including whether it would be limited to nursing home cases or apply more broadly across the health care sector. The admissibility of a panel’s findings at trial is another issue that hasn’t been decided, she said.
Denton said the review panels wouldn’t infringe on patients’ rights to pursue lawsuits.
“You can still have your day in court,” she said. “This is a process to go through and look at it preliminarily by medical experts.”
The coalition of health care and business groups, called Care First Kentucky Coalition, is promoting a plan that would create three-member medical review panels. All three would be medical experts, with each side choosing a panelist, the coalition said. Those two members would agree on the third expert.
Under the coalition’s proposal, the panels would not make findings of fact but their opinions would be admissible in court. Cases would be reviewed within six months, ensuring a timely process while protecting plaintiffs’ access to the courts, the group said.
Dr. Fred A. Williams Jr., president of the Kentucky Medical Association, said the review panel process would help stabilize the state’s medical malpractice system.
The benefits, he said, would include “making the state more attractive to employers while helping us retain and attract the kind of quality physicians and other health-care providers Kentuckians depend upon.”
Stumbo, an attorney, said he’s skeptical that meritless cases are burdening the courts. For defense attorneys, the expense of litigating a malpractice case serves as a deterrent to filing frivolous cases, he said.
He also expressed doubts that the proposed changes would lower malpractice premiums paid by those in the health-care industry.