Nevada panel considers malpractice bill

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- The Assembly Judiciary Committee was urged Friday to endorse a bill strengthening rules that govern insurers offering Nevada doctors medical malpractice coverage.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said AB320 would help ensure fair and equitable insurance rates for doctors and allow for public comment when setting the rates.

Buckley added the measure would require insurers with a majority of the market share to provide notice to the state four months before withdrawing coverage.

Buckley said the early notice provision is a response to St. Paul Companies -- which had 60 percent of the medical malpractice insurance market in Nevada -- abruptly pulling out of the state.

AB320 would require any insurer with a 40 percent market share to inform the state 120 days before leaving the market.

Under the bill, the Nevada insurance commissioner wouldn't approve premium increases if it determines the rates were designed to make up for a company's losses in financial markets, or because the insurer lost money by pressing ahead with lawsuits that could have been settled out of court.

Buckley said the lawsuit provision would entice insurers to accept settlement agreements instead of going to trial and getting hit with higher amounts by juries.

"The verdicts were much higher than the settlement offers prior to trial," Buckley told the committee in describing findings of an interim investigation into malpractice trials.

The bill would also require insurers to pay 95 percent of their approved claims within 30 days, or face the prospect of losing their license.

Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist for the insurance industry, told the committee that insurers are obligated to represent their clients in the best way possible, and sometimes that means going to trial instead of settling.

He said that while juries sometimes go way beyond proposed settlements in their decisions, up to 70 percent of the people who file medical malpractice lawsuits end up losing those suits.

Bill Bradley, a lobbyist for the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association which backs the bill, said the issue is about consumer protection -- even though "our critics say we're there protecting our pocket book."

Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, said the bill came from an interim committee studying insurance, and he believes there's enough support to move the bill to the Assembly floor.


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