The Alaska House on Thursday approved lowering the cap on noneconomic damages for medical malpractice awards.
Right now, an Alaska court or jury can award up to $400,000 to a person who sues a doctor or healthcare provider for damages such as pain and suffering. For severe damages, the cap is $1 million.
The bill that passed Thursday would lower the cap to $250,000. In cases of wrongful death or if the person is more than 70% disabled, the cap would be $400,000.
Lowering the cap is primarily aimed at attracting more doctors to Alaska, stabilizing medical malpractice insurance rates and ensuring that insurance providers don't leave the state, said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Fairbanks).
"The positives in this bill in advancing healthcare in Alaska far outweigh the negatives," Kelly said.
Opponents of the bill said the measure reduces the value of human life based on no evidence that medical malpractice premiums are too high or that doctors are deterred by the current cap.
Rep. Les Gara (R-Anchorage) said testimony in committee showed there was no evidence that premiums would be reduced with the bill's passage and that the number of doctors in Alaska, while low, was actually growing.
After a lengthy and at times heated floor debate, members voted 22-18 for the measure.
Rep. Carl Gatto (R-Palmer) served notice of reconsideration, meaning the House could take the bill up again at its next session.
The House added an amendment that was not included in the Senate's original bill that says the cap shall not apply if the damages are the result of "reckless or intentional misconduct."
The Senate passed the bill last month. If the House's vote stands on reconsideration, the Senate will be asked to concur with the changes. If the two chambers don't agree, a conference committee will be appointed to work out the differences.