Florida Legislature Fails to Pass Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Restrictions that Would Lower Medical Malpractice Costs

On March 9th, the Florida legislature adjourned its 2012 session without passing three anticipated healthcare liability bills. The liability bills would have dealt with assisted-living facilities, medical malpractice lawsuits and the dispensing of drugs to workers-comp patients.

Of greatest concern to the Florida Medical Association and its physician members was the bill dealing with medical malpractice lawsuits and defensive medicine. Senate Bill 1316 originally included a provision designed to make let doctors and other health providers sign agreements with their patients to take future malpractice claims to arbitration rather than jury trials. These agreements would also be able to set limits on damages. This provision was ultimately stripped out of the final bill due to protests by the trial lawyers bar.

Senate Bill 1316 did include other malpractice changes, including one that would make it more difficult to prove doctors are negligent for not performing supplemental diagnostic tests on patients. The Florida Medical Association argued that healthcare workers’ fear of being sued for malpractice causes them do to unnecessary, costly tests as a means of practicing defensive medicine. The Florida Medical Association argued that if Senate Bill 1316 were to pass, it would have a deflating effect on the overall cost of healthcare in the state.

The Florida Medical Association so wanted the bill to pass that it was willing to make a concession on one of its longstanding positions to garner the support of the optometry lobby. In the past, the Florida Medical Association regularly advised the state legislature that a patient who requires an oral drug should be under the care of a medical doctor to ensure the condition is properly diagnosed and treated. It was now willing to amend its stance on the matter, giving its blessing to optometrists being able to prescribe oral drugs after completing one-week’s coursework, primarily online.

This caused great distress to the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, which was categorically opposed to the compromise. Ultimately, Senate Bill 1316 was never voted on in the legislature, and will likely undergo much revision before it is reintroduced.