Politics

Legislation to set up panels to review medical malpractice cases before they can be tried in court is back in the Kentucky General Assembly.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the bill has been introduced in the legislature. The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare may vote on the bill Wednesday afternoon.

Update: The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare approved the bill Wednesday afternoon; it now moves on to the full Senate.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Republican from Winchester, proposed the legislation, which would form a board of three physicians and one attorney to review cases to determine if they have legal merit.

Alvarado said the measure would keep what he described as frivolous lawsuits from clogging the legal system and blemishing doctors’ reputations with malpractice cases.

“Right now, Kentucky has one of the nation’s most litigation-friendly environments, making our commonwealth a prime and profitable target for personal-injury lawyers preying upon our healthcare providers,” Alvarado.

But Vanessa Cantley, who represents nursing home patients in abuse and neglect cases, said the claim that the state has too many malpractice cases is overblown.

She said a panel with three representatives from the health care industry would skew rulings towards defendants–hospitals and doctors.

“Now how many claims do you think are going to be found in favor of the victim when you have three administrators standing in judgment of one of their own. And the answer to that is very very few,” Cantley said.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce supports the bill. At a committee hearing on Monday, Kentucky Chamber President Dane Adkisson said that “medical review panels will stabilize our medical malpractice system, making our state more attractive.”

Sherry Culp is the Kentucky ombudsman for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center, which advocates for nursing home residents. She said medical review panels would be especially harmful to the elderly.

“It does add time to the process, which is a terrible thing to do when someone is vulnerable and aging and has experienced a serious problem with their care,” Culp said.

In the past two General Assembly session, the bill has passed the Republican-led Senate and died in the House. Last fall, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting reported that many of the legislators who voted in favor of the bill received campaign donations from nursing home owner Terry Forcht or his family or associates. Forcht owns nine nursing homes across the state and is the founder of Forcht Bank.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.