State Supports Medical Malpractice Reform Bill

By Diane Ako

HONOLULU — Could a new bill help stem the health care crisis in Hawaii? Many say there’s a shortage of physicians across the state because of the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance and the fear of being sued.

Supporters say House Bill 3102 and Senate Bill 3024 will help Hawaii attract and keep good doctors, which in turn makes quality health care available for more Hawaii residents. It’s a concern for Hawaii’s insurance commissioner JP Schmidt, who supports a medical malpractice bill. “We’re losing our doctors. Doctors are leaving to go to Texas, California, and other states that have medical liability reform. We’re having a tough time getting new doctors here.”

Lawmakers heard testimony Friday on the bill. It would limit the kinds of damages awarded in malpractice suits. “It puts a cap on non economic damages, pain and suffering emotional distress. Things that don’t have standards to go by,” details Schmidt. Supporters say caps on damages would stabilize insurance rates and make insurance more affordable for doctors.

It would also allow victims to get all their economic damages. “Increased medical expenses, increased cost of living due to injury, lost wages, increased cost of drugs; all the things people need if they’ve been injured,” outlines Schmidt.

Critics largely come from the legal community. They say a cap won’t affect insurance premiums, and that it’ll be harder to find an attorney to take malpractice cases. The Governor’s administration supports medical malpractice reform. But even lawmakers like Representative Rida Cabanilla (D- Waipahu, Honouliuli, West Loch, Ewa) who support the bill aren’t sure it’ll pass this session. “There’s a lot of resistance from the legal community and there’s a lot of lawyers in this building.”

Cabanilla is also a nurse. She says she sees the crisis up close every day. “This state is in a bad position. We are losing doctors every day and we don’t have anybody to replace them.”

The bill passed its first reading in both the House and Senate, and is currently in committees.
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