Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205
03/29/2005 10:30 AM JUDICIARY
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SB 67-CLAIMS AGAINST HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS 10:38:23 AM CHAIR SEEKINS announced SB 67 to be up for consideration. He asked committee members to submit any proposed amendments. He advised public testimony was closed. SENATOR GRETCHEN GUESS asked whether there was a definition of healthcare providers in the Alaska Statutes. CHAIR SEEKINS announced a brief recess while his staff checked for a definition. 10:46:00 AM CHAIR SEEKINS read aloud the definition of healthcare providers: Our intent is to cover doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, all healthcare providers including those that are named here, acupuncturists, audiologists, speech pathologists, chiropractors, dental hygienists, dentists, dispensing opticians, podiatrists, naturopaths, optometrists, pharmacists, physical or occupational therapists, psychologists, psychological associate, hospitals. There is a definition and it is under AS 09.55.530-560. 10:47:46 AM SENATOR HOLLIS FRENCH commented one issue is the small market of insurance providers in the State of Alaska. He suggested the committee look at other like-sized markets for comparison. CHAIR SEEKINS voiced the primary concern is Alaska has two insurance providers, both of which are mutual companies. If one of the two companies leaves Alaska, the fear is the other will not pick up the physicians left behind. The main concern is the shrinking number of providers. 10:50:30 AM SENATOR GENE THERRIAULT noted that hedonic damages are separated from non-economic damages in Section 2, subsection (c). CHAIR SEEKINS agreed it appeared redundant. SENATOR THERRIAULT asked whether there was a reason for the separation. 10:51:47 AM CHAIR SEEKINS asked Mr. Bill Hogan whether the wording should be "other" hedonic damages. 10:52:25 AM MR. BILL HOGAN, Alaska Physicians and Surgeons, agreed the wording sounded redundant. He said he is not sure of the distinction between "hedonic damages" and "loss of enjoyment of life." CHAIR SEEKINS asked whether the intent of the Alaska Physicians and Surgeons group was to limit damages for the occurrences listed in Section 2, subsection (c). MR. HOGAN answered correct. CHAIR SEEKINS asked Mr. Hogan if he would object to deleting "but may not include hedonic damages" on Page 2, line 3. MR. HOGAN answered no. 10:53:21 AM SENATOR THERRIAULT suggested the drafter chose to use the language for a reason. CHAIR SEEKINS called a brief at ease at 10:54:03 AM in order to contact the drafter for comment on the chosen verbiage. CHAIR SEEKINS reconvened the meeting at 11:01:14 AM. CHAIR SEEKINS asked drafter Don Bullock to explain Section 2, subsection (c). MR. DON BULLOCK, attorney, Legislative Affairs Agency, explained "hedonic damages" means life is not what it used to be. Hedonic damages would be different than "pain and suffering" if the case involved a person suffering from a brain injury that precluded them from feeling pain. It is difficult to put a value on hedonic damages since it is a "quality of life" issue rather than a "pain and suffering" issue. The definition in SB 67 is out of Black's Law Dictionary. It is an additional type of damage from those listed in Section 2, subsection (c). 11:03:41 AM SENATOR FRENCH suggested they modify the current system to bring assurance to both the insurance industry and the practitioners. He proposed they bring the cap down slowly to reach a happy medium. 11:05:20 AM CHAIR SEEKINS asserted there is no restriction on a person recovering for actual damages. SB 67 speaks of non-economic damages. 11:05:56 AM SENATOR FRENCH proposed a conceptual amendment to change the caps to $350,000 and $850,000. Children and old people would suffer most from SB 67 because they cannot demonstrate a large earning capacity. He suggested the committee revisit the changes next session to see whether they are working. 11:07:09 AM SENATOR THERRIAULT objected. He maintained the conceptual amendment would fix nothing. CHAIR SEEKINS agreed. SENATOR FRENCH disagreed. He stated it would lower total exposure by a significant amount. Under his proposal, any million-dollar jury case would be reduced by 15 percent. His suggestion would show the Legislature is working toward a solution that will result in a reduction in total awards. 11:08:50 AM SENATOR GRETCHEN GUESS asked Senator Therriault to expound on why he feels the split cap is not working. CHAIR SEEKINS offered to answer the question. The Legislature should deal with the definition of "severe" as it applies to many liabilities. Currently severe is defined as anything that can be embarrassing. It is easy to claim a case belongs in the higher cap category. The intent with medical malpractice issues is to put a hard cap into place. 11:11:18 AM SENATOR GUESS stated the Bethel case had more to do with the jury making the decision of severity. She voiced the problem was in defining severe personal impairment or severe disfigurement. CHAIR SEEKINS agreed and stated the Supreme Court provided the jury with the definition. SENATOR GUESS added it is difficult to determine where the middle ground should be in regards to insurance claim caps. She voiced support for Senator French's proposed amendment. 11:12:45 AM CHAIR SEEKINS asked for a roll call and the proposed conceptual amendment failed 3-2 with Senators Huggins, Therriault and Chair Seekins dissenting. 11:13:13 AM SENATOR CHARLIE HUGGINS moved CSSB 67(JUD) from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note(s). SENATOR FRENCH objected. He asserted CSSB 67(JUD) would deny benefits to the most seriously injured Alaskans. 11:14:18 AM Roll call moved CSSB 67(JUD) out of committee by a 3-2 vote with Senators French and Guess dissenting.