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Gov. Bush calls lawmakers back for 4th session

The governor says if lawmakers can't resolve the malpractice issue this time, he'll call them back until they do.

By Associated Press
Published June 28, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday called lawmakers back to town for one week, starting July 9, for another special session on medical malpractice insurance. He also set tentative dates for more sessions if the next one isn't enough.

Bush also issued a lengthy and specific criticism of efforts so far to lower malpractice insurance costs by the Legislature, setting out particular objections to several measures being sought by the Senate.

And he rebuked lawmakers for not getting anything done, saying in a letter addressed to Senate President Jim King that "actions speak louder than words."

He said he will keep calling lawmakers back until they fix the problem of increasing premiums that doctors pay to insure themselves against losses in malpractice lawsuits.

Bush and many doctors say the situation is a crisis, threatening Floridians' access to health care, particularly in certain high-risk specialties like neurosurgery.

Bush said if lawmakers don't get the problem fixed in the July 9 session, he'll call them back July 22-28. If it's not fixed then, he'll recall them Aug. 5-13. If they still haven't acted, he listed another week in August and two in September, essentially threatening to keep legislators in town most of the summer.

"The lack of reform of medical liability has contributed to skyrocketing costs for health care providers, causing many doctors to practice without liability insurance, or to refuse to provide trauma care and other high-risk services or to close their practices altogether," Bush said in his recall proclamation.

The top issue dividing lawmakers is how to limit damages in lawsuits. Bush and the House have sought a strict $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering compensation. Initially, the Senate resisted caps, but eventually passed a measure with a $1.5-million ceiling in most cases, with exceptions for extremely bad injuries or death. In all, the worst-injured victims could win $6-million in noneconomic damages.

Bush praised the Senate for backing off its opposition to caps and agreeing with the House on provisions aimed at making it easier to discipline bad doctors.

But he rejected other parts of the bill the Senate was considering in a special session last week, which ended without agreement.

The governor took issue with a Senate proposal to create a patient safety authority that would study medical mistakes and try to help doctors and hospitals avoid them, because the Senate would charge patients $1 to pay for the program. That's an unfair tax, Bush argues.

Bush also criticized the Senate's proposal to create a panel to try and weed out frivolous suits, saying it would drive up costs because it would be additional process insurance companies and doctors would have to go through in defending a malpractice claim.

King, R-Jacksonville, has expressed his own frustration, saying that while the Senate has considerably softened its stance, Bush and the House haven't been as willing to compromise.

King's spokeswoman, Sarah Bascom, said Friday the Senate "will continue to negotiate and work with our counterparts in the House and the governor's office."

Nicole de Lara, a spokeswoman for Byrd, R-Plant City, said the House was "ready to work any time, any place," to try and resolve the crisis.

[Last modified June 28, 2003, 01:32:47]

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