Thursday, March 01, 2007


Tort reform bill put to rest in House Judiciary committee

House Judiciary Chair Tommy Waters this evening made the most moving, poetic, and apposite short speech I've ever heard in the Legislature. I don't dare try to paraphrase it, I think I was in kind of a trance as he spoke. At the close of the hearing, he explained why he felt that committee members should vote to hold the tort reform bill (which kills it). I think his speech was persuasive, and indeed the vote was to hold the bill, HB220.

The hearing included testimony and videos from parents and relatives of children or spouses whose lives were shattered by medical malpractice in Hawaii. The mother of the baby given carbon dioxide instead of oxygen spoke. Others spoke of the man who was implanted with a screwdriver shaft. He ultimately passed away, after living in agony after the shaft broke shortly after surgery. As it happens, I included an early Star-Bulletin story on that case in my testimony in opposition to the bill.

It is certainly true that several medical specialties are in critically short supply on Neighbor Islands. This bill would not have corrected that situation, in my view, and I testified to explain that there is no assurance that it would reduce premiums. But it certainly would cut off funds to families suffering medical injuries such as those who testified at the Legislature today.

We need to solve the rural doctor shortage problem--I've written extensively in this blog that I feel a crisis is upon us already, and that if a storm or tsunami hit us today, we would not be able to deal with the demand for medical services. But the problem must not be solved on the backs of vulnerable patients.

If you can catch the testimony on Olelo, I'd recommend it. It will be very painful to watch. This is not M.A.S.H. or Dr. Kildare stuff. Keep a box of tissues handy. But if you can watch it, you'll understand, I think, why the media hype of "tort reform" may not offer the silver bullet so many doctors and others are hoping for. Doctors decide where to live and practice based on a number of factors. The high cost of malpractice insurance is one of them, but so is sending their children to a good private school or having a large enough practice to be economically viable. Perhaps there is a way to reduce the premiums (I cited this Star-Bulletin editorial, which suggests that one way would be to reduce Hawaii's high incidence of malpractice!).

No doubt a similar bill will come up again next year. Why not, in the meantime, work to solve our rural medical problems so that it wouldn't be necessary?


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