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Malpractice bill absent from Senate’s health committee hearing

The Senate Healthcare and Medial Liability Reform Committee met June 10 to consider bills for the first time since the start of the legislative session almost five months ago.

Committee members heard measures that would automatically enroll KidsCare applicants in a local network, synchronize the terms of directors of special health care districts outside of Maricopa County and require tattoo parlors to be licensed by city or county health departments. Five of the bills were unanimously approved, and two were held for further debate.

Missing from the agenda was a medical malpractice reform bill sponsored by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Carolyn Allen.

The Scottsdale Republican filed the tort reform bill just before Christmas and has said several times that she intends to push the measure to the governor’s desk before the session closes.

“The business community came to me wanting more time,” Allen said. “I just decided to give it to them.”

It is unclear when the bill will be heard, although the measure is still slated for this session.

S1018 would raise the bar of proof required to convict an emergency room physician of medical malpractice to “clear and convincing” evidence. Arizona statute requires only a “preponderance of evidence.”

Laurie Lyles, senior vice president of public affairs for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said the change to the state’s liability laws would aid hospitals in recruiting emergency physicians who have been deterred from practicing in Arizona because of elevated malpractice insurance premiums.

“This bill recognizes that these professionals face unique challenges as they deliver episodic emergency care to patients,” Lyles said.

Several Democrats in the House and Senate, though, are worried that the measure could deny citizens the ability to sue negligent physicians.

“Let’s do something that would address the premium without taking away people’s constitutional right to redress a grievance,” Democratic Rep. Phil Lopes said shortly after Allen filed the bill. “If emergency room doctors are paying premiums that are 10 percent higher than other doctors, why don’t we just subsidize them to the tune of 10 percent?”

Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed a similar bill sponsored by Allen in 2006, only to have the bill vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano. Medical liability reform bills introduced during the 2007 and 2008 legislative sessions never made it to the governor’s desk.

The Senate began hearing bills June 8 following the Legislature’s approval of a budget packet that solved a $3 billion deficit in fiscal 2010. Until now, committee members were asked by leadership to set aside regular measures and focus on the budget.

“It’s nice to be able to finally have some committee hearings,” Allen said.

Bills heard in the Senate Healthcare and Medical Liability Reform Committee on June 10:

SB1098 (Held): Would exclude direct care workers who provide support services for people with disabilities from the definition of health care provider in statute.

SB1100 (Passed 6-0): Extends the Biomedical Research Commission until July 1, 2019.

SB1101 (Passed 6-0): Expands the list of actions for which the Board of Examiners of Nursing Care Institutions can charge fees.

SB1103 (Passed 6-0): Continues the Arizona Partnership for Nursing Education Demonstration Project until June 30, 201l – a verbal amendment to the bill further extended the project’s sunset until 2015.

SB1104 (Passed 6-0): Allows the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to automatically enroll a KidsCare applicant in a health plan if the person’s parent or guardian fails to identify a plan in the application.

SB1232 (Held): Requires the Department of Health Services to set statewide minimum standards for the licensure of tattoo and body-piercing businesses. Also prohibits businesses from giving a tattoo to a minor without parental permission.

SB1330 (Passed 6-0): Resets the term lengths to four years for members of a county’s special health care district, with all members’ terms expiring at the same time. Maricopa County is excluded from this bill.

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