Wyoming lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly -- 18-10 in the Senate and 48-6 in the House -- to convene a weeklong special session next month to consider reforms to the state's medical malpractice regulations.
The session is scheduled to begin July 12.
Several doctors have been cutting back services, retiring or leaving the state because malpractice rates are eating into their profits.
The Legislature this year voted down several proposals for tackling rising medical malpractice insurance rates, including a constitutional amendment backed by Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, that would have allowed lawmakers and voters to consider limiting jury malpractice awards for noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. The state constitution currently prohibits limiting lawsuit awards.
"That's perfectly fine with the governor," Freudenthal spokeswoman Lara Azar said of the special session. "He hopes that toward the end of the session there is some movement toward progress."
While insurance companies say high damage awards for medical malpractice are responsible for doctors' rising premiums, opponents -- including trial lawyers -- say the main reason is insurance companies' losses on the stock market.
Calls for a special session began not long after the legislative session. In March, the Ohio Insurance Co. decided to stop providing medical malpractice coverage for doctors in Wyoming. Also, the Wyoming Insurance Department has approved a 13% rate increase for another medical malpractice insurer, The Doctor's Co.
The Legislature last convened in a special session in 2002, at the start of that year's budget session. The special session enabled lawmakers to consider redistricting and school finance bills without being held to the two-thirds vote to introduce nonbudget bills during a budget session.
A similar special session was convened during the 1998 budget session, also to tackle school finance.
The last special session outside the regular dates for meeting in Cheyenne was in 1997. School finance was the issue then, as well.