Despite fights, malpractice bills advance
The Nevada Legislature last week moved forward several medical malpractice bills but not without a fight first.
On Tuesday, the deadline to push bills from one house to the other, the Senate passed three bills – SB97, SB122 and SB250.
On the same day, the Assembly unanimously passed AB320.
All the bills were passed across the legislative building’s hall, except for SB250, which was sent to the Senate Finance Committee because of an amendment that includes an appropriation from the state’s General Fund.
The appropriation is for the Critically Impacted Medical Specialties Subsidy Fund.
The fund will subsidize medical malpractice insurance premiums for Nevada physicians whose premiums exceed 15 percent of their gross revenues.
A doctor’s subsidy cannot exceed $30,000 in a 12-month period, and doctors with disciplinary actions or judgments against them are not eligible.
The fund was the focus of much debate in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, where SB250 was first heard.
Initially, lawmakers earmarked money from the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners’ reserve for the fund.
But the board complained that its reserve was needed for legal costs and that it will continue to be depleted by lower physician fees the board instituted earlier this year.
Board President Cheryl Hug- English also argued that the NBME’s charter is to license and discipline doctors, not subsidize their insurance premiums.
Randolph Townsend (RWashoe), a sponsor of the bill, said during the Senate floor session that three or four potential revenue sources for the fund have been identified and that it would be up to the Finance Committee to determine the best one.
After the meeting, Townsend declined to identify the possible sources for the fund, but said that the NBME’s reserve was still one of them.
He said the committee decided to look at other possible sources after the board testified about cutting fees, drawing down on its reserve and increasing its operating budget.
“We’re having a jousting experience with them,” said Townsend, “to see what’s real and what’s not.”
Plenty of repartee accompanied passage of SB97.
Senators Terry Care (DClark) and Dina Titus (D-Clark), who both sat on the Judiciary Committee that heard SB97, fiercely opposed the bill.
Care rattled off a half dozen or so questions about the bill that he said no one has answered, including who is behind the bill and why it’s necessary because Assembly Bill 1, passed in a special session last summer, already put a cap on non-economic medical malpractice awards.
“What insurance companies have contributed in anyway to SB97? Or to the initiative?” asked Care.
The initiative is the measure sponsored by a Keep Our Doctors in Nevada that will be on the ballot in the next election.
The ballot is identical to SB97 in its original form and will make moot SB97 if passed by voters.
Dennis Nolan (R-Clark), who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, rose to say that the bill wasn’t perfect but was designed to circumvent any judicial challenge to the ballot initiative.
He also agreed with Care that the insurance industry had been missing in action when it came to debating the issue.
“The insurance industry was not missing last session,” said Care.
“They were hiding behind the bristlecone pines, laughing.”
Titus said she didn’t understand why Nevada lawmakers were suddenly emulating California, which passed laws called MICRA that SB97 is modeled on.
“I’ve heard it said many times that Nevada doesn’t do things like California and, boy, do we ever,” said Titus.
“But now for some reason we’re rushing to adopt California’s medical malpractice scheme …We are not California and we cannot expect MICRA to work here.We did a good job [with AB1] and we should let it work.”
The bill passed by a vote of 3 to 8.
Meanwhile, the Assembly unanimously passed AB320, which helps to control medical malpractice premium rates by more strictly regulating the insurance industry.
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