Legislature(2005 - 2006)HOUSE FINANCE 519
04/26/2005 01:30 PM FINANCE
Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 67(JUD)(efd fld) An Act relating to claims for personal injury or wrongful death against health care providers. BRIAN HOVE, STAFF, SENATOR RALPH SEEKINS, said that SB 67 would amend AS 09.55 by adding a new section (.549). The section would place a two-step limit on non-economic damage awards where health care providers render services. In cases involving wrongful death or severe permanent physical impairment, damages would be limited to $400 thousand dollars, while all other cases would be limited to $250 thousand dollars. The bill intends to alleviate a growing, two-pronged, crisis in Alaska's health care industry, the dearth of liability insurance carriers and the declining number of practicing physicians. Liability insurance is necessary. Health care providers understand the necessity of liability coverage. Mr. Hove stated that in today's world, commercial enterprise must have coverage. Medical malpractice insurance companies have found Alaska uneconomic and have left that market, which has created uncertainty and opened the door to higher rates across the board. Mr. Hove noted every Alaskan needing medical care pays the added costs of doing business, however, there are more serious concerns with a critical shortage of physicians. Alaska ranks near the bottom in the number of physicians per capita nationwide and that over half of Alaska's physicians exceed the age of 50. Additionally, it is continually more difficult to recruit new entries when other states have capped non-economic damages at or near $250 thousand dollars. It is important to note that SB 67 does not alter awards for quantifiable damages such as lost wages and medical expenses. Furthermore, it is not intended to be a solution to the entire range of issues facing the health care industry today. However, it does provide a step in the right direction in terms of stabilizing the medical insurance market in Alaska and boosting efforts to attract the next generation of physicians. 4:39:59 PM JIM JORDAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ALASKA STATE MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (ASMA), ANCHORAGE, testified in support of the legislation. He mentioned the national shortage of physicians. The Association of American Medical Colleges has issued an alert that it is time to ramp up for the medical shortage. He emphasized that the shortage is particularly acute in the Western states. Mr. Jordan maintained that the State of Alaska cannot afford the loss of another physician. There are a variety of reasons that physicians are being lost. He felt that SB 67 could aid in recruitment of new doctors. Mr. Jordan pointed out that two of the four insurance companies that have left the State are still doing business in Idaho. Alaska exceeds Idaho's [medical insurance] rates by 50 percent. He urged support for SB 67. 4:47:57 PM Representative Foster referenced the materials in the file which indicates that the number of doctors across the country have tripled since 1989. 4:51:20 PM Mr. Jordan questioned which report was being referenced. Representative Foster restated that the report indicates the tripling per capita. Mr. Jordan advised that the numbers being discussed are the total number of physicians licensed in the State. It is important to take into consideration how many doctors are actually practicing. The national organization of State Medical Boards indicates that 60% of physicians have licenses in multiple states. The directory is the best attempt to determine who the practicing physicians are. 4:53:39 PM Representative Weyhrauch questioned if 37 doctors had dropped out of practice last year. Mr. Jordan said yes, primarily due to the number of deployed military positions. Representative Weyhrauch asked if they had purchased malpractice insurance. Mr. Jordan believed that the retired military had been covered under the federal torte act. 4:56:05 PM MIKE HAUGEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ALASKA PHYSICIANS AND SURGEONS, ANCHORAGE, testified in support of the legislation. Approximately, 60% of the Alaskan voters favor placing a cap on non-economic damages in medical non- practice cases. He added that 72% of the voters believe that health care providers are doing a good job preventing medical errors and promoting public safety. Nearly half of the voters feel that some physicians have stopped providing some complex or high-risk medical services to protect themselves from the lawsuits. Voters fear that the medical non-practice component will impact them directly. th Mr. Haugen pointed out that Alaska ranks 46 out of 50 states in the number of per capita doctors. Those states that have enacted meaningful, non-economic damage caps have seen an average of about 12% more doctors per capita. Mr. Haugen argued that the concern is one of access. With only two insurance carriers left in the State, Alaska cannot afford to loose one of them. There are enough senior doctors in the State deciding to retire from practice. It is very difficult to attract new doctors into Alaska and with just two carriers, it will not be getting any easier. He stated that SB 67 would help address these concerns. 4:59:16 PM Representative Holm asked if it was in the best interest for Alaskans to have young or old doctors. Mr. Haugen responded that would depend on the qualifications and ability of that physician. The doctors coming out of medical school are exposed to the most current technology and theory while the older physicians have experience. The fact is that Alaska needs to attract more doctors of all ages. Representative Holm pointed out that it is extremely difficult to attract specialists in Fairbanks. He was concerned that the legislation might attract only young doctors. Representative Holm referenced an article regarding a liability insurance analysis undertaken by a group, which ranks Alaska between 33%-36% nationwide. Alaska ranks very low for doing business and recommended that torte reform be implemented. 5:02:58 PM Mr. Haugen explained that the proposed legislation was not the ultimate solution to the problem. He thought that eventually, the Legislature could create a better fix to the problem. 5:04:59 PM Representative Holm advised that there is no guarantee from any insurance company that they will stay in Alaska either with or without passage of the legislation. CS SB 67(JUD)(efd fld) was HELD in Committee for further consideration.