Washington Gov. Gary Locke, House Speaker Frank Chopp, Senate Democratic Leader Lisa Brown and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler recently unveiled a proposal to help improve the safety of medical patients and control the cost of medical malpractice insurance for doctors. “We want patients to be safer and the medical community to continue offering their services,” Locke said. “The steps we are proposing will go a long way toward reaching both objectives.” The proposal would achieve three things: Increase patient safety; assure that physicians and hospitals can get the insurance they need and stabilize their insurance rates; and improve the civil justice system while protecting the constitutional rights of patients. The package, which will be part of the governor’s supplemental budget proposal to the Legislature, includes a Medicaid reimbursement rate increase for doctors. This would help obstetricians and family practitioners who deliver babies cover their rising cost for this care, including increased malpractice premiums, and ensure these critical delivery services remain available across the state. The Medicaid increase would permit the state to claim federal matching funds, target assistance to doctors that serve the most Medicaid clients, and benefit rural providers, who are more dependent on Medicaid revenues. The proposal would improve access to care among low-income families and allow hospitals and medical groups to share quality-improvement techniques, giving health professionals the opportunity to learn from each other about how best to protect patients. It would also allow the state to establish a Patients’ Compensation Fund, which would cover excessive malpractice award costs for health professionals, while ensuring that people with significant medical injuries receive compensation for their losses. Additionally, the proposal would direct the state to fully investigate physicians with excessive malpractice judgments and provide additional funding for the Department of Health to cover the cost of malpractice insurance for retired physicians willing to volunteer in clinics.
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