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Wednesday, December 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Medical malpractice initiative gains steam
By Carol M. Ostrom
News that Initiative 336 to the Legislature has the required 197,734 signatures started the clock on familiar sniping over the issue.
Supporters claim I-336 is the most comprehensive answer to a difficult, complex problem. "It takes care of the bad doctors, it stops irresponsible attorneys from frivolous lawsuits and reforms the insurance industry to put an end to price gouging," said spokesman Dylan Malone.
If certified by Secretary of State Sam Reed, the initiative will go to the Legislature, which could pass it into law. If the Legislature, in its session beginning in January, amends the measure or takes no action, the initiative would appear on November's ballot.
Revoke licenses of doctors who have three jury verdicts against them in 10 years for preventable medical injuries.
Require disclosure of a provider's malpractice history to patients who ask.
Add community members to the state medical disciplinary board and require mandatory investigation of doctors involved in three preventable injuries or deaths.
Require providers and health-care facilities to promptly release to patients records relating to adverse medical incidents.
Sanction lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits.
Outlaw secrecy agreements in medical-malpractice lawsuits.
Create a supplemental insurance fund for doctors, hospitals and other medical providers.
Supporters of the competing initiative say I-336 isn't what it seems.
I-336, he said, would cost the state money by setting up a catastrophic-insurance fund, would "effectively kill" peer review of doctors by allowing confidential records to be accessed and would force doctors to settle even unfounded lawsuits. "It's all about extorting early and lucrative payments," Curry said.
He said his group, with petitions in doctors' offices across the state, also expects to gather the required signatures by the Dec. 31 deadline.
The WSMA's proposal, I-330, would cap noneconomic damages won by injured patients, a reform sought by many hospitals, doctors and medical-malpractice insurers.
I-336 is supported by the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association and a number of advocacy groups for patients with injuries or disabilities, labor, and consumer organizations.
Malone, the spokesman for I-336, is the father of Ian Malone, who sustained severe injuries when he was born in Everett in 1999. The boy died earlier this year. Malone and his wife sued the birth center and the doctor. The birth center was found negligent by the state and later settled the suit by the Malones; the doctor agreed to restrictions imposed by the state but left the country, and the lawsuit was never resolved.
According to Malone, I-336 is the answer he's been looking for since Ian was injured. "Finally, we have a package for meaningful reform," he said. "It doesn't just punish the victim," a reference to I-330's damage caps.
Critics say caps haven't worked in other states. "Statistic after statistic show that caps do not work," said Mark Firmani, whose consulting firm is working for I-336. "What they've introduced is a Trojan horse that gives bad doctors immunity."
Malone said he was outraged by the doctors' initiative. "I've seen the [I-] 330 people talking about kids like Ian as if they're 'lottery winners,' " said Malone, recalling his child, who never walked, talked or ate naturally and needed nearly constant medical supervision. "It punishes the victims and it's a narrow fix that does nothing to make health care safer."
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or email@example.com
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