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Medical Review Panel Measure Heads to Senate Docket

Legislation to establish a three-member, independent review process for medical negligence complaints against health care providers moved out of a state government committee on Wednesday.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester), the only practicing physician in the chamber, is sponsor of Senate Bill 6. He claimed that without tort reform like he’s proposing, Kentucky’s medical climate is “toxic” and is running doctors out of the state.

Testifying before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee yesterday, Alvarado explained how medical review panels would work. He also said the review panel process does not prohibit meritorious patient complaints.

Litigator Opposes Review Panels

Trail attorney Vanessa Cantley bemoaned the proposal, saying it would build barriers to justice, and result in less safety for patients and lower accountability among providers. She testified that seven states have repealed their medical review panel laws, and five have found them unconstitutional.

Cantley argued that the panels interfere with the right of a patient or their families to have their day in court. She provided lawmakers with data about the high toll of preventable medical errors.

Cantley said medical negligence comprises less than half of a percent of all civil cases filed in the commonwealth, and those cases are on the decline. Sen. Alvarado held fast to his contention that the litigious environment in Kentucky discourages doctors from practicing here.

Cantley said the medical community can’t be trusted to police itself. She also noted that resolution of malpractice cases through the review panel process may come too late for some claimants, such as nursing home residents who have an average age of 83, according to Cantley.

Views from Other Stakeholders

Sherry Culp is a district ombudsman for the Nursing Home Ombudsman Agency in Lexington. She advocates for residents who live in nursing homes, family and personal care settings, and other long-term care facilities. Culp testified that SB 6 would deny injured patients or their families the justice they deserve as victims of medical negligence.

But medical malpractice expenses are driving up costs for businesses, according to Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President David Adkisson. His organization represents more than 60,000 employers across the state, many of which are health care providers, ranging from large hospitals to small practices.

The Health and Welfare Committee approved SB 6, and the measure moved to the full Senate. The chamber approved the legislation on Thursday by a vote of 24 – 12.

Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for updates throughout the day, and for a recap of the full day’s activities, watch Legislative Update, weeknights at 11 on KET. You can also follow the Kentucky General Assembly on KET’s Legislative Coverage app for your smartphone or tablet.