Governor Fletcher Proposes Compromise For Medical Malpractice Cases

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - In a blunt assessment to fellow doctors,
Gov. Ernie Fletcher said Monday that chances of limiting
pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice cases are bleak
because of resistance from some state lawmakers. The governor
expressed a willingness to compromise if he wins another term.
Speaking at a Kentucky Medical Association meeting, Fletcher
said doctors should settle for another version featuring a pretrial
dispute resolution process aimed at reducing "frivolous"
malpractice suits.
Specifically, he said independent boards - possibly consisting
of doctors and patient advocates - would review malpractice
filings, with their findings admissible in court.
The review would not preclude a right to jury trial.
"I'm willing to compromise," Fletcher said after his speech.
The Republican governor said he shared the KMA's disappointment
that proposed constitutional amendments on medical malpractice have
died in recent legislative sessions.
Had past proposals reached the ballot and won voter approval,
lawmakers could have then limited pain-and-suffering and punitive
awards to no lower than $250,000 each.
There would have been no limit on economic damages for lost
wages and medical costs.
"I hate to say this, until we change the makeup of the House,
we're not going to be able to get the $250,000 limit on
non-economic damages," Fletcher told doctors. "We've tried and
tried and tried. But I think it's time that we move forward and get
everything else we can."
Governors have no veto power over proposed constitutional
amendments, but can exert their influence with state lawmakers in
trying to get measures on the ballot, or to block such proposals.
Republican state Rep. Bob DeWeese of Louisville, a retired
surgeon attending the KMA meeting, said it was the first time he
heard Fletcher indicate a willingness to drop proposed caps on
non-economic damages.
DeWeese said he thought doctors would accept the compromise,
"They realize that half a loaf is better than nothing," he
said.
DeWeese, however, wasn't optimistic that Fletcher's suggestion
would jump-start the issue. DeWeese said he offered a similar
compromise two years ago that failed to salvage a proposed
constitutional amendment.
Fletcher, who is being challenged by Democrat Steve Beshear in
the Nov. 6 election, also spoke about requiring insurance companies
to justify their medical malpractice premiums - something Beshear
also supports.
Beshear said that putting caps on non-economic damages "is not
a realistic solution. I do understand the tremendous strain rising
malpractice insurance places on doctors and the communities they
serve."
Beshear said he wants to bring all sides of the medical
malpractice issue together for discussions, adding that he's
"committed to finding solutions to address this issue."
Supporters of limiting non-economic damages say it's needed to
halt rising malpractice insurance rates forcing some doctors to
quit doing high-risk procedures or leave for states where insurance
rates are lower.
Critics say the limits would not guarantee that insurance rates
drop or stabilize.
Sen. Charlie Borders, R-Grayson, said Monday he still wants to
see limits on non-economic awards in malpractice cases, which he
says could lower malpractice premiums. But he said the governor's
willingness to compromise "may indeed be the best thing we can do
with the current situation being what it is."
"If that's all you can get at this point in time, maybe that's
what you've got to take," he said.
In his speech, Fletcher also cited improvements in health care
during his term. He said the Medicaid budget was shored up,
payments were improved to doctors treating Medicaid patients, a
state program was created that helps small businesses provide
health coverage for employees and health screenings for newborns
were expanded.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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