MT 2011 Legislature

Mar 22, 2011 7:22 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)

MT Legislature takes up medical malpractice issue

A bill aimed at reforming Montana's medical malpractice laws is pitting the medical and legal communities against one another.

MT State Representative Janna Taylor (R-Dayton) says her bill is about lowering the costs of health care, and her bill is aimed at reforming medical malpractice laws in Montana.

Taylor said, "Currently it's always safer for a doctor to order more tests, schedule another office visit, or do more procedures than necessary than to explain later in hindsight why they don't."

The bill states that patients must show clear and convincing evidence that medical malpractice took place.

But if doctors document their reason for not ordering a test, they are protected from civil lawsuits.

The medical community supports the bill, saying that doctors fear getting sued and so they practice defensive medicine.

Michael Brown, a Billings pathologist, gave an example: "We had a liability case a couple of years ago that resulted in a large payout. The system legal team then has recommended to us, actually mandated, that they want all placentas to be examined, even the normal ones, the ones that don't really need to be examined."

According the Montana Medical Legal Panel, 100 malpractice cases were filed last year in the state.

The legal community says these cases are rare and are not a primary cost driver of healthcare.

Al Smith of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association said, "What this bill does is it provides unneeded protections for those folks who are doing their job correctly, and then provides unmerited protection for those folks who really aren't doing their job."

Smith says families who have been devastated by medical malpractice have very limited recourse under this bill.