- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gov. Bob McDonnell dodged potential charges of hypocrisy when he vetoed a bill broadly approved by the General Assembly that would have raised Virginia’s cap on medical-malpractice awards.

But his rejection of the bill isn’t likely to stand.

Of the four bills Mr. McDonnell vetoed this year — the first four vetoes of his term — the veto of the malpractice bill seems most likely to be overturned by legislators when they gather next week to consider the governor’s vetoes and budget amendments and to approve new political districts.

Passed unanimously by the state Senate and by an 89-7 vote in the House of Delegates, the bill would have raised the cap on medical-malpractice awards by $50,000 annually until it reached $3 million in 2032.

It came as little surprise when Mr. McDonnell, widely thought to be considering his prospects for national office, vetoed the bill shortly before a midnight Tuesday deadline. During the 2009 gubernatorial campaign, he had criticized his opponent, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, for supporting a 1999 bill that would have raised the malpractice cap from $1 million to $3 million.

Mr. McDonnell this week said raising the cap would not “meaningfully protect against health care cost increases.”

“While I commend the affected stakeholders for working diligently together, increasing the medical-malpractice cap will ultimately lead towards higher health care costs for doctors, hospitals, businesses, and most importantly, patients,” he said.

Groups on both sides of the medical-malpractice controversy support the bill, which was the result of a compromise among the Medical Society of Virginia, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.

Scott Johnson, general counsel to the Medical Society of Virginia, said raising the cap will do just the opposite of what Mr. McDonnell claims. Instead of leaving open the future possibility of more dramatic and sudden raises in the cap, the bill will result in a stable environment for health care providers, he said.

“We believe these increases will keep [insurance] costs in check,” Mr. Johnson said. “The increases under this agreement are far less than the medical cost of living and the inflation factor.”

Mr. Johnson said the group is contacting every Virginia legislator to ask them to support an override. He said it’s still too early to gauge support.

The last time legislators raised the medical-malpractice cap was in 1999, when it was increased from $1 million to $1.5 million and then gradually increased to $2 million, where it now sits.

Like the governor, Delegate John O’Bannon, Henrico Republican, is on record for criticizing Mr. Deeds’ support of raising the cap to $3 million. But Mr. O’Bannon voted for the current bill and says chances for an override next week are good.

“It will allow us to have a stable climate, which will be better for the high-risk people,” Mr. O’Bannon said. “I am encouraging my peers to go ahead and override the veto.”

Overriding a veto requires 66 votes in the 100-member House and 27 votes in the 40-member Senate, so it seems less likely the legislature will overturn Mr. McDonnell’s vetoes of three other bills, which passed by narrower margins.

• Legislation that would have limited the penalty for environmental-law violations passed the House 62 to 37 and passed the Senate 40-0.

• A bill that would have allowed penalties for failing to report large quantities of water used for irrigation passed 75-23 in the House and 26-14 in the Senate.

• A bill that would have required elementary and middle schools to provide 150 weekly minutes of physical education passed 55 to 40 in the House and 37-2 in the Senate.