Proposed Medical Malpractice Change Sparks Odd Alliance

October 2, 2013 | Charles Bowen

A Georgia Senate subcommittee is currently hearing debate over what would amount to unprecedented changes to the state’s existing medical malpractice system. The proposed plan would lead to the complete removal of med mal claims from the judicial system, moving them to a newly-created administrative process. The plan has already sparked intense opposition from, somewhat surprisingly, two groups who are almost always on opposite sides of med mal reform debates: doctors and lawyers.

The current plan, Senate Bill 141, has been floated by State Senator Brandon Beach who says that he believes action needs to happen fast to fix what he sees as a broken medical malpractice claims system. Beach says he thinks the existing system is far too costly for doctors, unnecessarily dragging good doctors’ reputations through the mud while costing them a small fortune in legal fees. Beach says that unless changes are made, med mal litigation will continue driving up the cost for doctors to do business in the state, eventually leading to a painful loss of medical professionals.

To remedy the issue, Beach has proposed the Patient Injury Act, an attempt to whip the med mal system into shape by taking it completely out of the judicial process. Rather than file a lawsuit against a negligent doctor, injured patients will instead file a claim with a new state office, the Office of Medical Review. That office will then initiate an administrative proceeding, allowing the doctor to respond. A panel of experts will investigate the matter and another medical review panel will issue a decision.

There are many obvious problems with this proposal. For one thing, the Medical Association of Georgia, a group that represents the interests of thousands of Georgia physicians, says that the plan will actually lead to many more med mal claims. This increase in claims will overburden the state’s bureaucracy, leading to slow processing times and ultimately higher taxes. In a rare moment of agreement, the Georgia Bar has also voiced its strong disagreement with the plan. The Bar notes that the Patient Injury Act would unconstitutionally deny an injured victim the opportunity to take his or her claim before a judge and jury. Instead, the court system would be replaced with bureaucrats, whose independence might be in question.

The Georgia Bar also notes that the changes proposed by State Senator Beach would go further than changes proposed in any other state. Rather than allow med mal litigation to properly expose dangerous doctors, the new administrative approach would shield doctors’ mistakes from public view. Beach even acknowledged that the proceedings would not involve a determination of malpractice, leaving it up to the Georgia Medical Board to pursue such charges.

Not surprisingly, the biggest fans of the proposal are the insurance companies (who stand to save a very large amount of money from this proposal). Few others, however, appear ready to embrace it. With doctors and lawyers coalescing against Senate Bill 141, its chances of passage appear slim.