The Kentucky Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments over the state’s medical review panel law, which requires people suing doctors for malpractice to have their cases screened by a group of doctors before they can proceed to court.
Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration, which is defending the policy, argues that it helps weed out frivolous malpractice claims and makes the state more attractive to health care providers.
J. Guthrie True, an attorney representing people who say they’ve been negatively affected by the law, argues that it delays the process and forces plaintiffs to spend more money ahead of court proceedings.
“It creates delay, it obstructs the courthouse door and its intent is to discourage claims,” True said. “That’s the bottom line, this is an intent to discourage the bringing of these claims regardless of whether they have merit or whether they supposedly don’t have merit.”
The law was passed by the Republican-led legislature last year as an attempt to make Kentucky more attractive to doctors and health care companies looking to relocate or expand in the state.
Lawyers from the Bevin administration point to a 2013 report commissioned by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear that said Kentucky doesn’t have enough doctors and included recommendations that the state impose medical review panels to reduce the cost of liability insurance premiums.
Bevin’s deputy general counsel Matthew Kuhn argued that the law “doesn’t block access to the courts at all.”
“Anyone can file their complaint after they go through this easy, commonsense procedure. At most it’s going to take nine months,” Kuhn said.
A lower court briefly blocked the law last fall but the state court of appeals allowed it to proceed while it’s being considered by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
During arguments on Wednesday, justices questioned how parts of the law would be implemented — lawyers who chair the panels can be right out of law school, what would happen if there is an unknown defendant or what happens if a defendant dies during the proceedings.
Kuhn said that it’s up to the legislature, not the courts, to make those decisions.
“The statute is brand new, we’ve had it for about a year,” said Kuhn. “The life cycle for these things is about a year so we’re just starting to get data back.”
It’s unclear when a ruling on the case will come. The court is also considering a challenge to the state’s right-to-work law this week.