Medical malpractice lawsuits may soon be a thing of the past in Georgia, if a group of legislators get their way.
Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) has sponsored Senate Bill 141, also known as the “Patient Injury Act,” with the aim of reducing costs and speeding up the malpractice claims process by replacing it with an administrative system. Beach cited defensive medicine as a reason for increasingly high healthcare costs, and argued that the proposed bill would cut down on unnecessary tests and procedures thereby limiting liability.
The administrative system would be similar to how worker’s compensation claims are handled, and would be no-fault, Beach explained. It would compensate patients for injuries without deciding whether the clinician 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 clinician will be notified and have 15 days to respond.
If the healthcare provider challenges the claim, a panel of experts will have 60 days to investigate. An independent medical review panel will issue a decision, which clinicians will have an opportunity to appeal. The panel will not determine whether clinicians committed medical malpractice; that determination will ultimately be left to the Georgia Medical Board to decide.
Fees paid on the part of healthcare providers to the Patient Compensation Board would fund the system.Proposed fees for individual clinicians 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.
Although more patients will qualify for compensation under the new system, Beach believes healthcare costs will ultimately be lowered. However, S.B. 141 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 won’t withstand a Constitutional challenge. Even the Medical Association of Georgia (Georgia’s physician group) 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 Medical Association, during testimony about S.B. 141.