Both the Oregon Senate and the House have approved a new medical malpractice mediation bill. The bill was the product of a work group convened by Gov. John Kitzhaber to examine issues regarding how medical malpractice lawsuits were being handled in the state.

The bill allows patients, providers, or health care facilities to report medical errors to the Oregon Patient Safety Commission, and to begin confidential settlement negotiations and mediation. The out-of-court mediation is expected to reduce lengthy, expensive lawsuits, but the program is expected to cost the state an estimated $1.6 million in the current budget. Proponents of the bill believe it will give parties injured by medical malpractice a better way to resolve grievances than filing lawsuits, and will reduce frivolous malpractice claims.

Opponents, however, feel that the bill does not go far enough in addressing medical malpractice claims, and does not live up to the governor’s promises. The work group originally proposed making the program mandatory, but doctors opposed this. The program will now be voluntary, making it slightly unclear about how it might be used. The bill, however, has the support of both physicians and trial lawyers, who are usually at odds.

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The bill passed in the senate in a 26-3 vote in early March, followed by passing in the house by a 55-1 vote a week later. Kitzhaber is expected to sign the bill into law shortly. “I committed last year to bring a proposal to the Legislature to ensure that our medical liability system fits within our shared vision of health system transformation,” Kitzhaber said in a press release, “and I appreciate the Legislature supporting this effort.”