New Tort Reform Bill Passes Committee - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

New Tort Reform Bill Passes Committee

By Leland Kim

HAWAII STATE CAPITOL (KHNL) --  Bill that could help keep doctors in Hawaii gets a new life in the health committee.

"Passing this bill will allow stabilization of medical malpractice premiums which physicians have to pay in order to maintain their practice," said Dr. Cynthia Goto, a Honolulu obstetrician/gynecologist and president of the Hawaii Medical Association.

The original house bill died a couple of weeks ago when the judiciary committee refused to hear it, but Wednesday, the health committee passed a revised version of a senate bill that keeps tort reform alive.

The bill still many hurdles to cross, but its revival today indicates there's enough support to at least give it a fighting chance.

"This is a crisis, that is here today," said Dr. Goto. "Physicians are leaving the state and cutting back on their practices."

Doctors throughout the state continue to say there's not enough of them to take care of Hawaii's patients.

"Maui is the only neighbor island with a neurosurgeon," said Dr. Goto.  "In Hilo, only one orthopaedic surgeon is available for on call emergencies. In Honolulu, there are two orthopaedic surgeons on call with a third available one day of the week."

Dr. Goto's testimony Wednesday morning helped convince the health committee to pass a revised senate bill that added tort reform language.

"Passing this bill will allow stabilization of medical malpractice premiums which physicians have to pay in order to maintain their practice," she said.

Malpractice insurance shot up 90 percent from 2002 to 2006, going from $33,000 to $63,000, according to the Hawaii Medical Asssociation.

"Unstable and rising medical malpractice insurance premiums are forcing Hawaii's physicians to leave or cut back on their practices," said Dr. Goto.

And the vast majority of malpractice claims, 86 percent of them were found to be without merit, meaning the court did not award any money.

While doctors say tort reform is one of several reasons for the doctor shortage, they urge lawmakers to take a close look at the new bill.

"We hope the legislature will continue to address this issue," said Dr. Goto. "We feel that it is very important to the health of everyone in Hawaii."

The bill now has to go through several more committees - the consumer protection, judiciary, and finance committees.  And if it passes all of them, it could go to back to the senate for a final vote.

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