Conn. Gov. Rell Likely to Sign Med-Mal Bill Despite Insurers’ Concerns

Insurers are urging Connecticut Gov. Jodi M. Rell to veto a medical malpractice reform measure that is sitting on her desk but Rell’s office has indicated she will likely sign the measure within the next few weeks.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America has urged Rell to use her veto power on the bill because the group says the legislation fails to provide meaningful relief to doctors and imposes excessive regulations on insurers.

“The Governor’s veto would send a necessary message to the General Assembly that Connecticut needs significant and meaningful medical malpractice reform,” said Don Cleasby, regional manager and counsel for PCI. “Substitute Senate Bill 1052 is not that reform.”

Dennis Schain, spokesman for Rell, said she has indicated she will sign the bill but told Insurance Journal that it could be “a few more weeks” before that happens.

“I am inclined to sign the bill as is,” Rell told Associated Press last week. “I would like it a little stronger, but I think we’ll also see if we get the results that are intended. And if not, maybe we can come back again and strengthen it.”

In a June 24th letter to the governor requesting a veto, PCI’s Cleasby identified several concerns about the bill, the most problematic of which was its failure to limit noneconomic damages.

“PCI believes this is one of the most critical components of meaningful tort reform needed to help stabilize medical liability rates,” Cleasby wrote. “Studies have shown that limits on noneconomic damages reduce the uncertainty of awards and provide more stability to underwriters, while discouraging litigation and promoting a more uniform and fair environment for pain and suffering awards.”

Rell’s predecessor in the govermor’s office, John Rowland, vetoed a bill more than a year ago because of its faiulre to cap economic awards. Rell, however, has acknowledged that there is not sufficient support among lawmakers for caps and has not insisted upon that provision.

Physicians, along with insurers, want limits on damages for pain and suffering. But the doctors say they recognize lawmakers are not likely to approve those caps until they know that other reforms won’t work. They have urged Rell to sign the bill.

“Eventually our legislators will be forced to take action in Connecticut. They will have no other choice in the matter and worried patients will demand it,” said Tim Norbeck, executive director of the Connecticut State Medical Society. “But let’s all hope that it doesn’t come after a needless tragedy that could have been prevented.”

The insurers maintain that there is another problem with the bill. This is the addition of “costly and unnecessary regulatory requirements including public hearings and expansive reporting of medical malpractice insurers without additional consumer protections.”

Insurers are already required to report basically the same claim information to a national data base, according to Cleasby. “Since the Connecticut Insurance Department does not regulate doctors, we believe this reporting requirement is unnecessary. Insurers are concerned that these changes will increase costs to insurers and destabilize the marketplace,” he said.

The bill requires insurers to get approval from the the state’s insurance commissioner for malpractice insurance rate increases of 7.5 percent or more. It cuts the interest that can be added by judges to certain malpractice awards. It also restricts lawyers’ fees.

Under the reform bill, lawyers would have to include a signed opinion from another medical professional saying that malpractice had occurred before filing a lawsuit. Hospitals would have to develop procedures – such as marking the right body part before surgery – to better prevent malpractice.

Norbeck said an actuarial analysis of the bill shows it might reduce rates by 1 to 2 percent. Between 2001 and 2005, some family practitioners have seen their rates climb by 252 percent.

Norbeck called the bill, “a weak start.”

Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Southington, co-chairman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, said the only way to determine if the bill reduces rates is to wait and see what happens. Murphy said he believes premiums will stabilize because of the legislation.

“If it doesn’t, we should be ready to back here next year to do something more aggressive,” he said. “Our goal is not to just pass legislation. Our goal is to stabilize and reduce malpractice premiums. If this legislation doesn’t do that, then we still have work to do.”

Some Associated Press reports were used in this story. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.