Olympia, WA: Slew of health bills OK'd in House



Bill cutoff today

The frantic action on the House and Senate floors continues today as lawmakers race to meet the cutoff deadline for passing bills from their houses of origin. The deadline is at 5 p.m. today, and a few hundred bills will probably be dead by sundown.

Bills required to implement the budget are exempted from the cutoffs.

No bill is ever truly and entirely dead at this stage of the game. So bills missing today's cutoff could be revived later, if they garner enough support.

Legislative leaders are intentionally delaying action on some bills until after the cutoff. The best example of that tactic is the cluster of bills that would alter the state's primary election system, bringing it into alignment with the federal Constitution.

Most lawmakers have been unwilling to commit to any alternative until after court options are exhausted. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide next Monday whether to hear the state's appeal of a 9th circuit ruling that declared Washington's system unconstitutional because it lets Republicans cross over to vote for the Democrats and vice versa.

Those elections bills will be staying in committees for at least another week.

Out of the House

Civil liability bills passed by the House of Representatives on Monday include:

- HB 2786: Establishes a patient safety program funded with fees and addresses early settlement offers

- HB 3197: Requires reporting of medical malpractice claims to the state insurance commissioner.

- HB 1926: Limits the use of expert witnesses.

- HB 1927: Requires mandatory mediation and notice of filing suit.

- HB 1928: Addresses liability in cases where more than one party is at fault.

- HB 3201: Requires plaintiffs in cases deemed by the court to be "frivolous'' to be required to pay court costs, including expert witness fees.

- HB 2834: Establishes a health professionals discipline task force and enhances protections for those who report substandard health care providers.

- HB 2837: Requires medical malpractice insurance carriers to file their rules for accepting applicants with the state insurance commissioner.

- HB 2816: Extends the required notice of cancellation or non-renewal of medical malpractice policies from 45 days to 90 days.

- HB 3200: Limits the time period for filing an action for injury or death relating to health care.

- HB 2839: Establishes a task force on medical malpractice dispute resolution alternatives.

- HB 2787: Expands the types of health care providers and settings that qualify for provider immunity for volunteer workers.

- HB 2788: Expands the types of health care providers and settings where the state Department of Health can pay for malpractice insurance.

- HB 2838: This bill is specifically to assist Physicians Insurance Company, which insures at least two-thirds of Washington state physicians. The bill would allow domestic mutual insurers to assess a fee on policyholders to increase its reserves to allow the company to write more policies. The move -- known as a capital call -- is preferred to raising rates because there is a tax advantage.

- HB 2879: Streamlines the sanction process for health care professions, with the exception of license revocation.

- HB 2931: Allows the use of $19.1 million sitting in the health professions account for health professions and patient programs.

- HB 2485: Changes the interest rate on civil liability judgments from 12 percent to the average interest rate on 26-week treasury bills plus 4 percent.

- For more information on these bills, go to www.leg.wa.gov and click on "Bill Information."

Olympia, WA - Democrats, who control the House, say they are ready to negotiate medical malpractice and other civil liability issues with Republicans, who

control the Senate.
The House passed 17 bills in a four-hour Monday afternoon session that covered a range of issues related to medical malpractice, patient safety and insurance law.

None of the bills included caps on non- economic damage awards.

Rep. Pat Lantz, a Gig Harbor Democrat who heads the House Judiciary Committee was elated that she had something to take to the table to begin negotiating a solution to the state's medical malpractice insurance crisis.

"We have (passed) many of the elements within MICRA," she said following the session.

MICRA is California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975, which medical associations, insurance company lobbyists and the Liability Reform Coalition of Washington hold up as a model of legislation that stabilizes medical malpractice premiums while allowing patients to recover damages for injuries suffered at the hands of a health care provider.

But a key element of MICRA is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages -- damages supporters refer to as "pain and suffering" awards and opponents say represents loss of quality of life.

Whatever the term, House Democrats, are unflinchingly opposed to limiting jury awards.

Lantz said she is looking forward to sitting down with Sen. Dale Brandland, a Whatcom County Republican who sponsored the omnibus civil liability bill that passed the Senate last week.

"I have a fair amount of hope (we can work things out)," Lantz said. "He wants something. I want something. We're both serious minded people."

But Lantz is unwilling to budge on limits on liability awards.

"I'm not voting for caps, and that's a fact," she said.

"It's not just you, honey," added Rep. Eileen Cody, a West Seattle Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Health Committee.

House Republican leaders complained that the Democrats' package of bills took some good elements of Brandland's bill and watered them down so that they do little or nothing to address the current medical malpractice insurance crisis.

During debate, GOP Floor Leader Glenn Anderson repeatedly urged members to consider the Senate omnibus civil liability bill -- a bill Democratic leaders would not let out of committee this year or last year.

"We've got to end the politics and spin and get back to governance by decision," said Anderson, R-Fall City.

"Let's make a decision. Let's fix it."

Lantz said the omnibus bill, which addresses civil liability laws governing all types of professionals, businesses and government at all levels, is too far reaching.

People won't support it when they understand its broad impact, she said.

The House bills now go to the Senate for consideration, and both chambers are under increasing pressure from voters and from their own leaders to do something to satisfy doctors and patients before the session ends.



In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site