House passes medical liability insurance bill

By Chris Dickerson | Feb 17, 2015

CHARLESTON – A bill meant to control the cost of liability insurance and to maintain access to affordable health care services for West Virginians is headed for the governor’s desk.

The House of Delegates on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 6 with a 76-21 vote. It had passed the Senate by a 31-1 vote.

According to the House, the bill addresses medical malpractice liability by linking cap increases to inflation and cost-of-living as found by the federal Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index. This will aid healthcare facilities and healthcare professionals with further predictability and stabilization of their liability and insurance premiums.

Del. Denise Campbell (D-Randolph), a registered nurse, spoke in favor the bill.

“This bill will help prevent skyrocketing malpractice liability insurance rates that many different healthcare providers have had to pay over the last 10 to 15 years and will hopefully close the loophole that resulted in attorneys coming from all over the country to file frivolous lawsuits,” Campbell said.

Not everyone is happy about the measure. The West Virginia Association for Justice has voiced its disappointment, saying it limits claims against nursing homes to just a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages.

“It is outrageous that the West Virginia Senate would pass legislation to limit accountability for nursing homes at a time when the number of severe deficiencies in our state facilities has doubled in just four years,” WVAJ President Anthony Majestro said when it passed the Senate earlier this month. “This legislation does absolutely nothing to address the serious problems in our nursing home industry.

“This is an industry that earned a D from a national nursing home patients’ advocacy organization. … Nothing is being done about this bad regulatory track record. Nothing is being done to improve the standard of care. The only focus is eliminating the ability of families to hold nursing homes accountable in our courtrooms when our family members are seriously harmed or killed. It’s wrong.”

Majestro noted that West Virginia has one of the oldest populations and that more than 16 percent of the state’s residents are senior citizens.

“Nearly every West Virginia family has someone or knows someone in a nursing home,” he said. “We have a duty to ensure that these facilities meet standards and the patients in them are safe. If you want to eliminate lawsuits against nursing homes, then improve the quality of care.”

He said the bill also included hidden damage caps for pharmacies.

“The people elected this Legislature to help bring more jobs to West Virginia,” Majestro said. “Bills that give immunity to billion-dollar nursing home and pharmacy industries don’t provide those jobs. Instead, they make our state a more dangerous place to live, work and retire.”

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, however, commended lawmakers for passing SB 6.

“We applaud the bi-partisan coalition of legislators who sponsored and supported Senate Bill 6, which will bring fairness and uniformity to our lawsuit system,” WV CALA

Executive Director Roman Stauffer said. “Under the leadership of Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead, the Legislature continues to pass lawsuit reforms that will ensure all litigants receive a fair and impartial day in court.

“These reforms will provide a boost to our economy and more job opportunities.”

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