The Other Side on the Tort Reform Debate
By Leland Kim
DOWNTOWN HONOLULU (KHNL) — The legal community responds to a new medical liability or tort reform bill, a day after the legislative health committee resuscitated it.
Attorneys say the revived bill won’t help with the doctor shortage problem, and data from other states back them up.
The medical community hopes a newly revived tort reform bill could help keep doctors from leaving Hawaii. They say the high cost of malpractice insurance is one of the major factors driving physicians away. But Judiciary Chair Tommy Waters (D-Lanikai, Waimanalo, Island of Kaula) still doesn’t think the bill will help reverse that trend.
“My feeling hasn’t changed,” said Rep. Waters. “I really believe that a jury, the community should decide what’s an appropriate compensation when a doctor makes a mistake. I don’t think the legislature should be deciding this.”
And prominent Honolulu attorney Rick Fried agrees. He says tort reform in other states did little to reverse rising malpractice premiums.
“It’s shown clearly in California in the same specialty with the same carrier, they pay more with very strict tort reform,” said Fried. “So that is not the solution to the problem.”
After California voters passed a tort reform bill, called the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), in 1975, malpractice premiums went up by as much as 450 percent in twelve years, according to the California Department of Insurance.
California voters passed Proposition 103 in 1989, which required insurance premium be cut back by up to 20 percent. Malpractice premiums then dropped almost 31 percent in three years.
And Texas voters passed Proposition 12, a tort reform measure, in 2003. But a year later, the Medical Protective Company, one of the largest medical malpractice insurers, raised its rates by 19 percent, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.
Fried says insurance companies typically don’t lower rates when you put a cap on damages.
“Ours have gone up enormously,” he said. “We’ve not had a malpractice case in this office to my knowledge; it’s just the insurance cycle.”
And on the legislative side, Rep. Waters says hundreds of bills need his attention, and he needs more information before he changes his mind on the tort reform bill.
“I’m asking the legislative reference bureau, which is an independent body, to do research and come back next session with a report,” he said.
Many points of view on a controversial issue.
Fried and Waters support incentive programs such as tuition waivers for medical students who agree to work in underserved communities and paying for insurance premiums for doctors who work in rural areas.