Chamber wants malpractice insurance on ballot

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
http://news.enquirer.com

A statewide business group is lobbying the General Assembly to put medical malpractice, or tort, change on the statewide ballot.

In a briefing Tuesday on its 2007 legislative agenda, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said high-priced medical malpractice insurance is driving health care costs up and doctors out of Kentucky.

If the issue is put on the ballot through a constitutional amendment “lawmakers will be able to starting debating changes,” said Mike Ridenour, the state chamber’s vice president of public affairs. “Reasonable limits on damages and mandatory alternative dispute resolution should be considered by the legislature to help reduce escalating malpractice insurance premiums and the resulting burden passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices, fewer health care providers and fewer choices,” the chamber says in its legislative agenda briefing book.

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which oversees constitutional amendments, said tort change lacks the votes to make it out of the Senate. Thayer said he has the Senate’s 21 Republicans in favor of the amendment. Because constitutional amendments require a super majority of 23, two Democrats would have to cross party lines.

That hasn’t happened in past sessions and Thayer, who represents Southern Kenton County, does not anticipate it happening this year.

“I’m a huge supporter of tort reform,” said Thayer, who attended Tuesday’s briefing at the Five Seasons Country Club in Crestview Hills.

“It’s one of the biggest issues facing the state, the rising cost of health care,” he said.

“The passage of tort reform is one step we can take to bringing the cost down and keeping good doctors in the state.”

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which also made a presentation at the briefing, also supports what it calls medical malpractice reform.

“The chamber believes that there are a number of alternative ways to achieve the malpractice liability reform goals, including … setting medical malpractice caps on awards for non-economic damages, requiring insurers to file for and justify rate increases with the Commissioner of Insurance and mandatory mediation in all medical malpractice cases prior to trial,” the Chamber says in its briefing book.

The Kentucky Academy of Trial Attorneys has published research indicating that medical malpractice reform would not lower physicians’ insurance premiums.

“Let a jury decide,” the lawyers’ association said in a recently published report.

“Trust yourself and your neighbors to make the right decision based on hearing all the facts, rather than trusting politicians to impose a one-size-fits-all solution regardless of what happened.”
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