Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205

03/22/2005 08:30 AM JUDICIARY

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
Moved SJR 10 Out of Committee
Heard & Held
           SB 67-CLAIMS AGAINST HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS                                                                       
9:06:02 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SEEKINS announced SB 67 to be up for consideration.                                                                       
MR.  WARD  MURDES, attorney,  divided  his  testimony into  three                                                               
concepts:  responsibility,  trust,  and value.  Whenever  a  bill                                                               
lowers  a  person's responsibility  it  invites  the same  social                                                               
aspects.  No one  can prove  the insurance  companies will  lower                                                               
premiums in response  to the bill. SB 67 would  punish people who                                                               
are severely harmed.                                                                                                            
9:10:35 AM                                                                                                                    
The state  should trust the  juries and  the judges to  apply the                                                               
law. The  insurance company attorneys consistently  demand a jury                                                               
trial  because juries  are notoriously  cheap.  The $250,000  cap                                                               
would  negatively  affect the  most  horribly  injured. There  is                                                               
currently  no  indication  that  the  insurance  companies  would                                                               
decrease their  rates as  a result  of SB  67. Doctors  should be                                                               
held  accountable  for every  dollar  of  damage they  cause.  He                                                               
opposed SB 67 in total.                                                                                                         
9:13:38 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR THERRIAULT  asked Mr.  Murdes to  talk about  the current                                                               
system, which has a $400,000  cap, and the workability of getting                                                               
around the cap.                                                                                                                 
MR. MURDES  said in 17 years  of medical malpractice work  he has                                                               
never  had a  verdict  for personal  injury non-economic  damages                                                               
exceeding  $250,000. Alaskan  jurors overall  simply don't  award                                                               
big money. Getting around the cap is a non-issue.                                                                               
SENATOR  THERRIAULT said  the  next case  might  receive the  big                                                               
money judgment.                                                                                                                 
MR.  MURDES asserted  that  Alaskan jurors  are  not inclined  to                                                               
award damages against doctors. He  urged the committee to do some                                                               
research into  the perceived crisis  and he volunteered  his time                                                               
to do an analysis for the committee.                                                                                            
9:17:27 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR THERRIAULT  asked Mr. Murdes  his suggestion  on allowing                                                               
an upper limit.                                                                                                                 
MR.  MURDES  said  the jury  addresses  the  compensatory  damage                                                               
limit. Gross negligence  is not defined very well  in Alaska law.                                                               
Sometimes doctors  don't do  what they  are paid  to do  and they                                                               
should be held accountable.                                                                                                     
9:19:20 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. MARGARET LUEY  testified in opposition to SB  67. Her husband                                                               
experienced permanent  damage due  to medical negligence.  At the                                                               
time he  was 49  and in excellent  health. He  was intellectually                                                               
gifted and a  valued employee of British Petroleum  as a computer                                                               
scientist  and  lead  auditor.   He  enjoyed  fishing,  canoeing,                                                               
camping, hiking, gardening, and woodwork.  Now there is not a day                                                               
that passes  that Richard does  not struggle.  It is a  labor for                                                               
him to  communicate and express  ideas. He  is now stared  at and                                                               
treated as  mentally defective. Non-economic losses  and pain and                                                               
suffering are  terms that are  cavalierly tossed  around. Richard                                                               
suffers from  a loss of self-esteem  and a loss of  his education                                                               
due to a brain injury.                                                                                                          
9:23:24 AM                                                                                                                    
When his  injury occurred  they had just  purchased a  dream home                                                               
and a new  car. In an instant that all  vanished. Today they face                                                               
a mountain  of debt.  The legal battle  for accountability  was a                                                               
steep uphill  fight for five years  and they never did  get a day                                                               
in  court.  Every  attorney  stopped  helping  them  due  to  the                                                               
extraordinarily high  cost of expert medical  testimony estimated                                                               
to be  $150,000. Doctors  are reluctant  to testify  against each                                                               
other and juries tend to presume all doctors are truthful.                                                                      
9:25:51 AM                                                                                                                    
This  belief requires  a  higher  level of  evidence  to prove  a                                                               
doctor has  been careless. She  urged the committee to  quash the                                                               
9:27:41 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. RICHARD LUEY testified against SB 67.                                                                                       
9:28:53 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. BRIAN SLOCUM, administrator,  Tanana Valley Clinic, testified                                                               
in support  of SB 67. He  said the bill would  bring badly needed                                                               
physicians into  Alaska. There is  a growing shortage  of doctors                                                               
in Alaska's interior. A 2003  American Medical Association review                                                               
found that between 1965-2002  non-federal physicians increased at                                                               
a rate of 213% while the US population only grew about 51%.                                                                     
9:30:50 AM                                                                                                                    
The  data  suggests  the  problem of  physician  shortages  is  a                                                               
localized  problem.  A  recent  editorial  in  Modern  Healthcare                                                               
predicts a shortage of up to 200,000 doctors by 2020.                                                                           
9:32:40 AM                                                                                                                    
This shortage  computes that approximately 465  patients will not                                                               
be seen daily by the year 2008.                                                                                                 
9:36:01 AM                                                                                                                    
Medical  malpractice  insurance  costs new  doctors  $250,000  in                                                               
Alaska,  which  causes  them to  decide  to  practice  elsewhere.                                                               
Passing SB 67 will curb a healthcare collapse.                                                                                  
9:37:03 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  FRENCH  asked  Mr.  Slocum what  role  the  Division  of                                                               
Insurance  played in  approving  the  recent medical  malpractice                                                               
premium increase.                                                                                                               
MR. SLOCUM said he didn't know.                                                                                                 
SENATOR FRENCH asked for a  link between medical malpractice caps                                                               
and doctor availability.                                                                                                        
9:38:46 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. SLOCUM said he did not have specific information on that.                                                                   
SENATOR GUESS asked Mr. Slocum  to comment whether the clinic has                                                               
had an arbitration case go to a review panel.                                                                                   
MR. SLOCUM  said they  did have  a case  that was  settled before                                                               
trial.   Typically   attorneys   make  the   decision   regarding                                                               
arbitration and review panels.                                                                                                  
9:41:08 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR GUESS asked  whether he had any information  to show that                                                               
the two existing  insurance companies wouldn't leave if  a cap is                                                               
put in place.                                                                                                                   
MR. SLOCUM had no proof of that.                                                                                                
9:43:10 AM                                                                                                                    
MR.  JIM   JORDAN,  executive  director,  Alaska   State  Medical                                                               
Association, testified in  support of SB 67. The  six states that                                                               
have fewer  doctors per capita  than Alaska are  Idaho, Oklahoma,                                                               
Mississippi,  Nevada,  Wyoming  and  Iowa.  One  reason  why  the                                                               
Medical Indemnity Corporation of  Alaska (MICA) disappeared is it                                                               
was  an  effective  victim  of  it's  own  success.  It  produced                                                               
positive  gains  and  the  Internal   Revenue  Service  taxed  it                                                               
federally. There  was concern that  same theory would  be applied                                                               
to other state organizations i.e. the Permanent Fund.                                                                           
9:50:21 AM                                                                                                                    
Mr. Jordan disagreed with concern  expressed that if the cap were                                                               
established at $250,000 it would  impact the ability of people to                                                               
go  to court.  Two  of  the three  insurance  companies who  left                                                               
Alaska do  business in Idaho  with a  premium rate of  48 percent                                                               
9:54:59 AM                                                                                                                    
An OBGYN working in Nome could  no longer afford the premiums and                                                               
had to quit doing certain medical procedures.                                                                                   
9:55:54 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  asked  Mr.   Jordan  to  speak  of  punitive                                                               
MR. JORDAN said AS 09.17.020 explains that.                                                                                     
SENATOR GUESS  asked whether Mr. Jordan  knew of case law  on how                                                               
future economics work for children.                                                                                             
MR.  JORDAN  knew  of  no  case law.  The  Alaska  State  Medical                                                               
Association's  attorney does  medical malpractice  awards and  he                                                               
indicated it  is very  unusual for the  plaintiff and  defense to                                                               
differ  on  the  value  of future  economic  earnings,  including                                                               
9:57:45 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  GUESS asked  Mr. Jordan  whether the  Legislature should                                                               
attempt  to  increase  the  Washington,  Alaska,  Montana,  Idaho                                                               
(WAMI) program in order to address the shortage of physicians.                                                                  
9:59:24 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. JORDAN agreed expansion of the WAMI program would help.                                                                     
10:00:54 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR FRENCH  advised Mr.  Jordan much  of the  information the                                                               
Legislature has  received on  SB 67 does  not confirm  that rates                                                               
would change as a  result of passage of the bill.  He asked for a                                                               
MR.  JORDAN said  all other  things remaining  equal rates  would                                                               
decrease. However, other impacts will cause the rates to rise.                                                                  
CHAIR  SEEKINS  closed public  testimony.  He  held the  bill  in                                                               

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