A bill revising Kentucky’s medical malpractice system by creating panels of medical providers to review claims of error or neglect before cases go to court was passed earlier this month by state lawmakers.
The legislation, long a priority of many Republicans, won final passage on a 25-11 vote in the Senate on March 3, two days after the proposal narrowly passed the GOP-led House. Senate Bill 4, awaiting signature by Gov. Matt Bevin as of press time, was sought by many in the health care sector.
Under the bill, medical review panels would scrutinize the merits of malpractice lawsuits against health care providers or institutions before the cases proceed to court.
Supporters say the three-member panels would help ferret out meritless malpractice lawsuits that drive up the cost of malpractice insurance rates for the state’s health care industry. Those high insurance premiums are a disincentive for people to practice medicine in Kentucky, they say.
“This is going to get rid of frivolous lawsuits,” said Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, a doctor and the bill’s lead sponsor. “And I think the people that have legitimate cases are going to be able to get an award much more quickly.”
Bevin said that he would sign the bill.
“For far too long, medical providers have faced a barrage of frivolous lawsuits, and this legislation is a commonsense step to rein such lawsuits in,” Bevin said in a statement.
Opponents say the panels would create barriers that delay plaintiffs’ access to courts. They predict once the measure becomes law it would likely provoke legal action.
“We’re getting ready to pass something that’s unconstitutional,” Rep. Chad McCoy, a Bardstown Republican, said during the House debate.
The bill’s supporters said the House changes helped shore up the measure’s constitutionality. Those changes include requiring review panels to issue opinions in nine months or lawsuits could proceed in court. The original bill allowed the panel’s opinions to automatically be admitted into court as evidence. Under the final version, trial judges would be asked to decide on the admissibility.
Each side in a dispute would select one panel member, and those two would choose the third member. Cases could bypass panel review and go directly to court if both sides agreed.
Similar measures were introduced for years but died when Kentucky’s legislature was politically divided. The push to create review panels gained strength when Republicans took control of the House after last year’s election. The Senate is solidly controlled by the GOP.
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