Medical malpractice bill faces long odds

Print Friendly and PDF By: Charles Craig Published: Jan 14, 2014

State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) faces an uphill climb in his effort to revamp the medical malpractice system in Georgia.

iStock_000023217379LargeBeach has been pushing his malpractice reform bill for two years, but experts say SB 141 is not likely to pass in 2014.

House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) told the Atlanta Business Chronicle there is not enough time to consider the legislation during this year’s abbreviated session of the Georgia General Assembly. The session will end early because party primaries will be held in May — two months earlier than in recent election years.

Beach, the primary sponsor of the tort reform bill, also learned Monday, the opening day of the 2014 session, that the Senate Health and Human Services Committee is not ready to take a vote on moving SB 141 out of committee.

At a hearing on the eighth iteration of the bill, Chairwoman Renee Unterman (R-Buford ) said there were still many questions about the bill. Among concerns raised by committee members Monday was elimination of what is viewed as a constitutional right to litigate medical malpractice claims.

“This bill is transformational; it’s bold change,” Beach said Monday. “But even the opposition has admitted the current system is broken.” He told GHN his bill is the only legislation that would lower health care spending.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” he said. “Whether it’s this bill or something else, we have to look at solutions to reduce health care costs.”

Several hearings have been held on SB 141, whose name has been changed from the Patient Injury Act to the Patient Compensation Act.

The legislation seeks to replace the existing medical malpractice litigation system with an administrative system. People who claim they were victims of medical malpractice would have their cases judged by a board of medical, legal and business professionals rather than a jury of the plaintiff’s peers. Georgia would be the first state in the nation to make such a move.

The bill has some powerful and diverse opponents, including the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA) and the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG). GTLA has argued that SB 141 is unconstitutional because it would deny medical malpractice claimants their right to a jury trial. MAG, which advocates for physicians, has said the legislation would increase medical malpractice claims and repeal significant tort reforms achieved in 2005.

Beach has argued his medical tort reform proposal will reduce health care costs by eliminating what he refers to as defensive medicine. That term usually refers to an overuse of costly tests to rule out even the most unlikely medical condition in a patient. Beach told GHN Monday that 82 percent of physicians admitted to practicing defensive medicine, presumably in an effort to minimize the risk of lawsuits. He added that 900 physicians in Georgia have signed on to support SB 141.

He likened what would be called the Patient Compensation Board to the state’s existing Workers’ Compensation Board. “Employers and employees came together to stop the jackpot justice,” he said. “They struck a grand bargain.”

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