Some potentially explosive lawmaking got off to a mellow start this week, as the City Council’s health committee heard testimony on a bill that seeks to reduce incidents of medical malpractice and bring down malpractice insurance premiums.
The bill avoids the caps on insurance premiums that two other malpractice reform packages making their way through city government address. That could make its passage easier.
While some testimony strayed into discussion of caps, most witnesses stuck to the two relatively uncontroversial measures on the agenda. One called for increasing staff in the city’s health department whose job it is to work with its medical board.
There was also little issue with a call for a medical database professionals can use to analyze incidents of malpractice.
The bill contains other measures that will come before other committees, which are more likely to prove contentious. Insurers are likely to balk at measures calling for them to publicly release more information about their practices and premiums. Lawyers, meanwhile, say they could disagree with a measure making “benevolent gestures” by malpractice defendantsincluding apologies inadmissible as admissions of guilt.
“If he says, ‘I screwed up,’ that’s an admission,” said lawyer Barry Nace, who sits on the committee of insurers, lawyers and doctors that helped draft the bill.
But there seemed to be agreement that something needs to be done about medical malpractice claims in the District of Columbia, where premiums are skyrocketing.
Washington’s medical society has reported that 28 percent of the city’s doctors say they would consider leaving the city for Maryland and Virginia, where premiums are lower. And 28 percent say they’d consider closing their practices altogether.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams has introduced a reform bill that includes caps on insurance premiums, along with measures like a requirement that patients receive the bulk of monetary damages from lawsuits.
Spokesman Vince Morris said the mayor thinks the bill before the health committee, which is sponsored by its chairman David Catania, isn’t comprehensive enough.
“You need to have some type of caps,” Morris said. “Otherwise you’re only just halfway there.”
But Catania said malpractice reform had been impossible because of irreconcilable views on caps and other contentious elements.
“We have approached the issue as if it were a third rail,” said Catania, I-At-Large. “As a result of the charged atmosphere we have let the entire process go to seed.”
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