On Feb. 9, 2016, a controversial new bill was introduced in the Maine legislature that could change how medical malpractice claims are handled in the state. The proposal would establish a state agency to adjudicate medical malpractice lawsuits, removing them from the judicial system entirely. The bill is opposed by the Maine Medical Association, the Maine Trial Lawyers Association and Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of Maine, the insurer that handles the majority of medical malpractice claims in the state.
Sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, (R-Chelsea) the proposal is backed by Patients for Fair Compensation, a nonprofit founded by Richard Jackson, CEO of Alpharetta Georgia-based Jackson Healthcare, a company that provides temporary staffing to hospitals nationwide. Jackson has advanced similar initiatives in Georgia, Florida and several other states, claiming that the changes could save millions in health care costs and give patients with small malpractice claims a chance to be compensated for their injuries.
Medical Malpractice Agency vs the Courts
The proposed bill, LB 1311, would create a new state-run agency, the Office of Medical Review, in Maine. The review board would consist of a panel of physicians who would adjudicate all malpractice claims in the state, virtually eliminating the need for attorneys and the courts. The agency would also take the place of Medical Mutual Insurance Co., which covers most of the state’s 3,000 physicians and 29 hospitals, and settles most claims before they get to court. Premiums currently paid to Medical Mutual would go to the agency to cover administrative costs and pay claims.
Proponents of the bill claim it would save the state nearly $4 billion in health care costs annually by eliminating the need for physicians to practice “defensive medicine” — the practice of ordering extra, possibly unnecessary, tests and procedures to protect themselves from a medical malpractice suit. “Doctors will do anything, virtually anything, to avoid being sued,” said Patients for Fair Compensation’s Wayne Oliver. “They do these counterintuitive things because they don’t want to play in that space we call the medical malpractice litigation system.”
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