Lawmakers Divided Over Tort Reform Bill

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- While doctors are united in calling for tort reform, lawmakers are deeply divided whether this session's tort reform bill could actually help the problem.

Even Queen's, the highest level trauma center in the state, is facing a doctor shortage.

Lawmakers don't know if the tort reform bill has a chance of passing, and are split on what they can do on the legislative side.

Windward Oahu saw four Orthopaedic surgeons leave just last year.

With only seven to start with, that's more than a 50% loss.

Doctors say tort reform would help reverse that trend.

But representative Tommy Waters disagrees.

"If we pass this bill, will doctors stay in the state in Hawaii? My conclusion is that no, that it won't have that effect," said Waters.

He says tort reform would do little to attract doctors to rural areas.

"If a doctor is not going to go to Pahala now, tort reform will not send a doctor to Pahala. The market is small," said Waters.  "They can't make a good living and quite frankly, I'm not sure if someone from the mainland would want to come down and live in Pahala."

He did not hear this session's tort reform bill, because it was identical to the one that failed last session.

"The bottom line is that I'm siding with the victims. I think it's more important to protect someone's rights than to protect the person who was the cause of the injury."

But some lawmakers disagree. They say Hawaii's doctor shortage is at a crisis level and they hope something can be done to fix it.

"Unless we have the doctors here in Hawaii, we will have many more victims, meaning people that won't be able to get health care," said Rep. Cynthia Thielen.  "So I think it's very short-sighted.

Thielen says she is committed to helping physicians stay in Hawaii.

"We have an emergency situation. Physicians know what to do when there's an emergency; you act," Thielen said.  "I wish legislators would get the same message. We need to act and we need to act now."

Waters says the solution is to provide incentives for local medical students to stay in Hawaii after they graduate.

He plans to introduce a bill this session that would do just that.