It now looks likely that Florida lawmakers will at least consider doing something about medical malpractice tort reform this year, but there are differing ideas about what should be done.
One group that’s pushing for reform is called “Patients for Fair Compensation”. It’s based in Alpharetta, Georgia, a state that’s also considering changes to its medical malpractice laws. The group is chaired by Rick Jackson. He’s also chairman and chief executive officer of Jackson Healthcare, the nation's third largest healthcare staffing company.
“The current system takes a long time, doesn’t give fair compensation – less than eighty percent of the people who deserve fair compensation don’t get it – it drives up healthcare costs by 25 to 30 percent.”
Jackson’s group is proposing an alternative. Instead of patients having to sue negligent healthcare providers, how about a “no fault” automatic settlement set-up similar to the current workers compensation system.
“There’s still some adversarial elements of workers comp, but our system is a lot easier to navigate and get to the answer quickly. That’s what we’re trying to do," he said.
Less muss and fuss, no need to pit patient against provider in lengthy and costly lawsuits. Charles Evans is vice chair of Patients for Fair Compensation. He’s president of International Health Services Group and senior advisor to Jackson Healthcare.
“In this system there is no blame structure so the physician can actually stand with the patient and talk about how things might have gone differently and the need for the patient to receive compensation and not be penalized in that process," he said.
Sarasota Ophthalmologist Dr. Jim Rowsey says he sees nothing but advantages to adopting a no-fault medical malpractice arrangement.
“It gets the physicians out of court, the patients out of court, it reduces the time to reimbursement from the current system of three-to-five years to a 180 days and the patients are reasonably comfortable if they’ve had an adverse event or an avoidable medical injury that they will be paid," Rowsey said.
If trial lawyers are reluctant to take many medical malpractice cases and if the present settlement system is unwieldy and drawn out, Debra Henley who heads the Florida Justice Association says the fault lies elsewhere.
“Well with all the restrictions and barriers they’ve placed in front of patients to bring a medical malpractice case, they’ve made it incredibly difficult for patients. And so the remedy there would be to remove some of these barriers and unnecessary expenses to allow patients to access their right to court.”
There’s even some debate over whether or not there’s actually a problem that needs solving right now. Sam Miller is with the Florida Insurance Council. He admits that wasn’t the case a decade ago when big trouble with the system compelled the legislature to take up the medical malpractice issue.
“We also fashioned a very important package of revisions in 2003 that have caused more and more doctors to come to Florida and stay in Florida in most lines of treatment. More medical malpractice insurers are in Florida – 22 now – we’ve had several new ones the last two or three years. Rates have stabilized, certainly compared to where they were before the crisis.”
Miller says, so far at least, the Patients for Fair Compensation folks seem to be a lone voice in the legislative wilderness.
“You know, the Florida Medical Association has serious concerns about this proposal, the insurers do; there are not even sponsors yet. These are good faith efforts, but more work needs to be done before the legislature should move seriously with this.”
Still, the state’s medical association, trial lawyers and insurers think there could be some helpful tweaks to the present medical malpractice system. How many of these tweaks might actually show up in legislation remains to be seen.