Opinion

Editorial for Oct. 15

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that something needs to be done to reform Washington’s medical tort laws. Doctors are faced with ever-increasing malpractice insurance costs which have little connection to how well or how poorly they do their job. Attorneys won’t give the time of day to clients unless they have a chance of scoring a big settlement.

Unfortunately the two measures on the Nov. 8 ballot aimed at reforming the system, Initiative 330 and Initiative 336, may seem nice and tidy on the surface but are far from being the solution when you actually dive in. That’s why we cannot support either one.

Neither does state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler who recently told The Olympian newspaper, “I have a recommendation that will probably satisfy no one. ... I say: ‘Oppose both initiatives.’”

I-330 is the product of the medical industry and insurance companies. It doesn’t help those harmed by negligent medical practitioners nor does it solve how to bring down insurance rates. Sure its passage puts more money in the injured person’s pocket instead of their attorney’s, but read the fine print in the 20-pages submitted to the state.

I-330 has a clause where doctors can ask you to sign a liability waiver before they provide care where an independent arbitrator, not the courts, would determine mediation. Sure they say it’s optional now, but wait and see if a doctor will see you if you don’t have the waiver signed.

And if you do end up receiving a settlement of more than $50,000, don’t expect to see that money any time soon. The initiative’s text says there are no lump-sum payments and all payments will be spread out over a period of time. If the recipient dies, the payments stop and the insurance companies are off the hook from having to pay the remainder to surviving beneficiaries.

I-336, supported by unions and attorneys, is no gem either. Its 19 pages of legalese has some good points such as making medical practitioners’ history more transparent and reforming the woefully inadequate Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission. You can find out more about a used car’s history than you can a physician’s.

Instead of true tort reform, I-336 places an additional burden on the medical community, requiring yet even more money paid for insurance and practically forces them to reach a settlement in cases that wouldn’t hold up in a court of law. It is extremely unfair to those in high-risk practices such as obstertricians and neurologists.

And the initiative’s text doesn’t cover the additional funds needed in the state Insurance Commissioner’s office which the Office of Financial Management estimates from $384,000 to more than $639,000 a year due to changes in requirements in examining insurers. It’s also expected to increase the state Department of Health’s costs by $58,000 annually for licensing health care providers.

Medical tort reform needs compromise from doctors and attorneys to make it work. It needs to be hammered out in the legislative halls, not at the ballot box by the uninformed masses.

We urge you to vote no on Initiative 330 and Initiative 336.

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