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Medical screening panel rises from ashes

Anne Knowles

The Nevada Legislature is deciding whether to resuscitate a panel of attorneys and physicians that once screened medical malpractice cases before they went to court.

The panel reviewed medical malpractice cases with the aim of discouraging frivolous and unwarranted cases.

But doctors, lawyers and the insurance industry all agreed the procedure was delaying valid cases and adding costs to an already expensive process.

The panel was then eliminated as part of AB1, the medical malpractice bill that was passed in a special session last year, although it continues to operate as it finishes up cases that were already in the pipeline.

Now, Assemblyman Garn Mabey (RClark), a physician, with the backing of the Clark County Medical Society, is hoping to reinstate the panel through Assembly Bill 300, heard last week by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Mabey and Warren Evins, M.D., president of the medical society, testified that AB300 instituted important changes in the panel that would make it more effective.

Under AB300, the panel would be overseen by an administrative law judge who would make sure cases were resolved within six months.

The panel members would also be paid and selected by the state’s insurance commissioner.

And it would be disbanded in 2009.

“It is a short-term solution to a medical crisis,” said Evins.

“We hope that whatever long term solution put in by the legislature would mean that we won’t need the panel.”

The legislature is also considering a range of other medical malpractice legislation, from additional tort reform to insurance industry reform.

The bill may be too little too late, according to other testimony and the reaction of at least one legislator.

“My concern is always with a balance between a stable insurance environment and ensuring fair compensation for victims,” said Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley (D-Clark).

“In the special session we tried to do that and the doctors said they didn’t want the panel, although several of us opposed that and thought it was short sighted …

The physicians should have listened to the legislature.”

Bill Bradley, a lobbyist for the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association and one of the drafters of original screening panel legislation in 1985, was opposed to the bill.

He said the bill did not address the shortcomings of the panel, including the expense of the proceeding and the potential for legal manipulations.

“This bill, in my opinion, doesn’t create a mini tribunal but an actual tribunal,” said Bradley.

“Now we have tort reform.

Tort reform and a screening panel is overly burdensome.”