Initiative 330 advocates insurance reform

Something’s askew in the state of Washington and the state’s physicians say they are trying to fix it with a legislative initiative.

Advocates of Initiative 330 say it will help stop lawsuit abuse, which will decrease the amount of money doctors have to pay in lawsuit insurance.

Opponents of the initiative say the same thing was tried 20 years ago and was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. They also say it doesn’t focus on where the real problems are.

The initiative would create a sliding scale for attorney fees, put a cap on “pain and suffering” damages between $350,000 and $1 million and would require that juries on malpractice lawsuits be told of any other damages awarded to the plaintiff to prevent duplicate awards, according to a fact sheet from Yes on Initiative 330, dubbed the health care access initiative.

Because it is a legislative initiative, I-330 will be sent to the legislature and both houses have the option of either passing it as is and sending it to the governor’s desk or making changes to it and sending the amended version to the governor’s desk.

If I-330 does not pass, it will become a voter initiative.

“This initiative does nothing but give a boon to the insurance industry that had its most profitable year in the last year,” said Bill Monto, campaign manager for No on I-330.

The problem has always been in two places, Monto said. The first is that 5 percent of the physicians in the United States are responsible for 50 percent of the malpractice lawsuits, according to the Medical Quality Assurance Board (MQEB).

He said the MQEB doesn’t punish the physicians who are found negligent and doesn’t give the public access to the information.

Initiative 330 does nothing to fix this, he said.

“This initiative only asks people to give up their right to their day in court,” Monto said.

Monto suggests that legislative Initiative 336 is a much better option. Initiative 336 has a clause that, if insurance companies want to raise their rates more than 15 percent, the company would have to go through a public process to say it’s necessary. In addition, I-336 would mandate that if a physician has three verdicts against them in 10 years, the physician would have to go through an appeals process to get their state medical license back. I-336 also mandates that before a lawsuit can be filed, a physician would have to sign an affidavit stating it is a valid claim.

“Caps (on attorney fees) don’t work because the problem lies in the insurance companies,” Monto said. “We need to regulate the insurance companies and hold bad doctors accountable.”

I-330 would not limit actual damages (lost wages and medical bills) and requires plaintiffs to give 90 days notice before filing a claim.

“Initiative 330 would help reform the tort systems in a way that would restore some element of fairness to the system,” said Dr. Brian Wicks, an orthopedic surgeon at Silverdale’s Doctor’s Clinic.

Malpractice insurance rates are higher than they need to be because of the volume of lawsuits and the high awards given, he said.

“A lot of money is diverted to the lawyers,” he said. “The patients get such a small amount so the (malpractice insurance) rates go up.”

He also believes I-330 would decrease the number of frivolous lawsuits filed.

“Right now, if we have a potential lawsuit and there’s a lot of money involved but not a lot facts, the lawyers may still take it,” Wicks said.

Because some of the awards are based on emotion rather than facts, the awards are often very large, which drives up the cost of insurance. Adding to the mix, the physicians also have to be aware of their

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