A group of legislators recently met to discuss Georgia’s Senate Bill 141, which proposes to change the state’s medical malpractice claims procedures by moving to an administrative system.
The bill, also known as the “Patient Injury Act,” was sponsored by Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, who believes the proposed system would reduce costs and speed up the process. Beach cited defensive medicine as a reason for increasingly high healthcare costs and argued that an administrative system would cut down on doctors ordering unnecessary tests and procedures in the hopes of limiting liability.
The new administrative system, Beach explained, would be similar to how worker’s compensation claims are handled, and would be no-fault. It would compensate patients for injuries they suffered without deciding whether the physician had committed malpractice.
The system would be overseen by a Patient Compensation Board within the Department of Community Health. An Office of Medical review would examine claims submitted by patients, and would have 10 days to determine whether there was a medical injury.
If so, the physician is notified and has 15 days to respond. If the doctor challenges the claim, a panel of experts will have 60 days to investigate. An independent medical review panel will issue a decision, and decisions can be appealed by physicians. The panel will not determine whether the physician committed medical malpractice; that determination will ultimately be left to the Georgia Medical Board to decide.
The system would be funded by fees paid by healthcare providers to the Patient Compensation Board. The bill proposes that fees for individual physicians would not exceed $500 in the first year and $600 in subsequent years, and fees for hospitals would not exceed $100 per bed in the first year and $200 per bed thereafter.
While more patients will qualify for compensation under the new system, Beach believes healthcare costs will ultimately be lowered. The bill, however, has numerous opponents, including the State Bar of Georgia. Charles L. Ruffin, president of the state bar, said that everyone is entitled to a trial by jury and that there needs to be “an impartial judge overseeing an impartial jury making these decisions.”
Other opponents include former Attorney General Mike Bowers, who believes the bill will not withstand a constitutional challenge. Even the Medical Association of Georgia expressed concern about changing the current system so drastically. “We need to be very careful about how we change the system, so that we’re truly addressing the problems,” said a representative of the association, during testimony about the bill.