Health Care Liability Reform: Initiative 330 concerns claims for personal injury or death arising from healthcare services.
• I-330 will improve access to health care by placing a cap on awards for damages and limiting attorneys’ contingent fees resulting from malpractice judgments, thereby resulting in reduced malpractice premiums, encouraging physicians to enter and to stay in practice. The use of mandatory mediation and voluntary arbitration will promote prompt resolution of malpractice cases. Doctors, hospitals and clinics cannot force anyone to sign an arbitration agreement. Patients needing urgent care or emergency medicine cannot be turned away if they refuse to sign such agreements. The arbitration agreement will only be held valid if both parties agree to it voluntarily.
• Medical liability insurance premiums and runaway jury verdicts are driving up health care costs. In addition, doctors are forced to “defensive medicine” adding billions of dollars of medically-unnecessary tests and procedures to patients’ bills, while simultaneously creating a backlog that leads to longer waiting times for certain tests and procedures.
• Limiting attorneys’ fees will ensure that injured parties receive a greater share of an award of damages. If I-330 passes, it will create market pressure to drive down attorneys’ fees making them more affordable for everyone, even for those who hire an attorney on an hourly basis.
• Access to health care under I-330 will ultimately be limited. I-330 allows insurance companies and other health care providers to include binding arbitration clauses in health care policies. The arbitration clause could require patients to give up their constitutional right to a trial by jury should a negligence claim arise. Binding arbitration clauses can then become a condition of receiving health care or access to health insurance. Voluntary arbitration and mandatory mediation is already available under the current law.
• Insurance reform and better injury prevention are the real solutions. Runaway jury awards for injured patients are not driving up the cost of malpractice insurance. The more likely causes of high premiums are the business practices of insurance companies as rates fluctuate during periods of economic recession, lack of competition in the insurance industry, and the need for insurance reform. The US GAO study noted that no evidence exists to support the claims of widespread defensive medicine and that any studies on the subject fail to account for profit motives in ordering tests and procedures.
• All I-330 does is ensure that fewer people injured by the negligence of doctors will be able to afford to hire an attorney to recover damages for their injuries. Contingent fees allow a person access to legal professionals and an opportunity to bring a claim for wrongful conduct without having to pay the money up front.
– Excerpted from League of Women Voters of Washington Simplified Ballot Issues. www.lwvwa.org.