MEDICAL LIABILITY REFORM IN WASHINGTON
November 3, 2005
Washington state residents will have the opportunity to vote on keeping physicians in their state through two initiatives aimed at medical malpractice reform, according to the Washington Policy Institute.
Initiatives 330 and 336 are attempting to tackle the same problem -- an exodus of physicians from the state and from their professions due to rising malpractice premiums -- albeit in different ways. Washington is one of 21 states deemed by the American Medical Association as a "crisis" state:
- Since 2000, 25 percent of family practitioners statewide have quit obstetrics.
- Between 1998 and 2001, the number of doctors moving out-of-state increased 31 percent.
- In less than 10 years, the number of medical liability cases resulting in jury verdicts over $1 million has increased four-fold.
Initiative 330, sponsored by health care providers, would include measures such as:
- Capping noneconomic damages at $350,000.
- Limiting attorney fees based on a sliding scale, starting at 40 percent for the first $50,000 of a malpractice award and declining to 22 percent for awards of $1 million.
- Requiring periodic payments of future damages and expanding evidence of payments from other sources.
Initiative 336, on the other hand is a counter effort supported by trial lawyers and would require reforms including: public hearings on malpractice insurance rate hikes, the creation of a state-run malpractice program and revoking the licenses of physicians with at least three medical malpractice convictions over 10 years.
Even if both initiatives pass, they will not contradict one another since they target different reform measures, says the Institute. However, noneconomic damage caps, included in 336, have been shown in other states to improve access to health care, says the Institute.
Source: Paul Guppy, "Overview of Initiatives 330 and 336: Proposal to Reform Washington's Medical Liability Law," Washington Policy Institute, September 2005.
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