The Washington State Medical Association is panning a plan for malpractice relief offered by Gov. Gary Locke and fellow Democrats in the Legislature, saying it does not include caps on noneconomic damages and other items on the group's wish list.
The proposal, which Gov. Gary Locke and the lawmakers unveiled last Thursday, calls for a $20 million increase in payments to OB/GYNs to cover their malpractice insurance increases and $10 million in state seed money to help physicians purchase supplemental malpractice insurance, the governor's office reports.
The plan would also establish a "patients' compensation fund" to help cover high malpractice awards, require state officials to fully investigate physicians with excessive malpractice judgments, and provide additional funding to cover the malpractice premiums of retired physicians who volunteer in community clinics.
Locke's office says the Washington Academy of Family Physicians supports the plan, but the WSMA issued a release saying the plan did not go far enough.
"It is gratifying to know that the governor and leaders in the House of Representatives now recognize that we face a crisis in this state that is reducing patients' access to health care," the association says. "We are deeply disappointed, however, that the proposals offered this morning fail to address the fundamental problems of the tort system, which are resulting in skyrocketing premiums that are forcing physicians to limit high risk services or stop practicing medicine altogether."
WSMA provided its own wish list of reforms for the 2004 legislative session, including:
- A $250,000 cap on non-economic damages;
- A sliding scale for personal injury attorneys' fees;
- Binding arbitration of disputes; and
- Periodic payments of future damages.