- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

A D.C. Council task force is recommending early mediation, mandatory reporting of medical errors and publishing of insurance rates online to help reform the city’s medical-malpractice insurance system.

Those recommendations and others appear in an 18-page report issued Friday by the council’s Health Committee task force on medical malpractice.

Convened two months ago by council member David A. Catania, the eight-member panel has sought to address doctors’ complaints that rising insurance rates are driving them out of the city.

The task force’s report identifies three areas for reform: civil justice, patient safety and insurance regulation.

“This report reflects common-sense goals that the medical and legal communities can support,” said Mr. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the Health Committee.

“Relying on other proposals that have no chance of becoming law will ultimately leave patients and doctors in the same unenviable situation they find themselves in today.”

He was referring to Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ plan, which includes tort reforms, or efforts to limit lawsuits and jury awards. The mayor’s proposal, which died in the council last year, has scant support among council members this year.

Mr. Catania, a lawyer, had said the task force would not consider tort reform, and no tort-related measures appear in its recommendations. Five of the panel’s eight members hold law degrees.

Among other measures, the task force recommends:

• Early mandated mediation. Once a malpractice lawsuit is filed in D.C. Superior Court, both sides would be required to try to settle the case without going to trial.

• Mandatory reporting of “adverse events.” A centralized system would be set up to record, track and report all medical errors.

• Reporting of insurance rates online. A Web site would list companies’ average premium rates to help doctors shop for insurance.

Dr. Peter E. Lavine, one of two physicians on the task force, last week said the panel’s recommendations are insufficient.

“By itself, there is no way it will work,” said Dr. Lavine, chairman of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia. “Maybe as an adjunct in the mayor’s bill, but not as a stand-alone bill by itself.”

The Williams plan would limit most jury awards for pain and suffering to $250,000 against physicians and $500,000 against hospitals.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, an at-large Democrat who is considering a run for mayor next year, has submitted a malpractice reform plan that focuses on changing insurance regulations to stem rising premiums. The bill has 10 co-sponsors among the 13-member council.

The Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., which has about 500 members, has opposed the mayor’s plan, saying it would be unfair to patients.

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