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Doctor Groups Blast Removal Of Malpractice Protection From SustiNet Bill

Republicans May Try To Restore Safeguard Against Lawsuits

Rinker Buck

March 08, 2011

Doctors' groups strenuously objected Tuesday to the removal of a provision in the SustiNet health reform legislation that protected them from malpractice suits.

On Monday, the General Assembly's public health committee approved the SustiNet bill but deleted a provision that would have protected doctors providing care under SustiNet from malpractice lawsuits, as long as they had followed proper procedures approved by the plan.

Legislators said the provision raised concerns that the bill would create a double standard for malpractice suits one for SustiNet doctors and patients, and another for everyone else.

During public hearings for the bill in February, the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association objected to the provision, saying that "clinical practice guidelines should never be the basis for determining whether or not patient harm was the result of negligence."

But the Connecticut State Medical Society said it might withdraw support for the legislation because of the change. The medical society was joined by the Connecticut chapters of the American College of Physicians, the Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The groups, representing about 12,000 members, said that a key aim of the SustiNet legislation is to reduce costs by convincing doctors to cut back on the number of extra tests they perform, often just to protect themselves from lawsuits later.

If, under Sustinet, doctors agree to reduce unnecessary tests and procedures, these groups say, they also need the additional protection from a lawsuit if the outcome of a case is not favorable. The groups say that physicians employed by the state and federal government are given similar protection.

"For three years, physicians have worked closely with advocates to craft SustiNet legislation that would increase access to medical care for Connecticut patients," said Dr. David S. Katz, president of the state medical society. "We have been very clear that if physicians in the program are required to adhere to special guidelines which physicians must be part of developing they also have to be afforded medical liability protection."

In a statement Tuesday, Dr. Robert McLean, governor of the American College of Physicians in Connecticut, said: "Removing the 'safe harbor' for physicians who participate in SustiNet is an insurmountable barrier to having primary care physicians participate in SustiNet. There's virtually no incentive for physicians and our patients are the ones who will suffer, with longer wait times and less choice of physicians."

State Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, a member of the Public Health Committee, said that he and other Republicans probably would offer amendments when the bill is heard by other committees to attempt to restore the malpractice protection for doctors.

"This was one of the provisions of the SustiNet bill that could have really driven down the costs of health care," Welch said. "Doctors need protection from lawsuits so they are not constantly ordering unneeded procedures and tests."

Rep. Elizabeth B. Ritter, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the public health committee, agreed that there is plenty of time to reinsert the malpractice protection for doctors, but was not optimistic that a compromise could be reached.

"I know that the doctors are upset with the removal of this section of the bill, and I don't blame them," Ritter said. "I would welcome any contact they want to have with us. But the people the doctors should really be getting together with are the trial lawyers and patient advocacy groups. But talks on that have been tried in many states across the country for ages now, and I don't get the impression that the problem was ever resolved."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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