There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel in Florida's medical malpractice insurance crisis. Gov. Jeb Bush is calling the legislature back into special session next week after the House and Senate reached a long-overdue agreement on a reform package. Both sides hope the proposal will protect patients, and bring down sky-high malpractice insurance rates. The battle may not be over yet.
Florida's bitter medical malpractice insurance reform battle ended on a comical note as the Senate president presented the governor with a Native American peace pipe.
It was a light-hearted end to a fight that nearly tore apart the state's republican leadership. Even Gov. Bush admits the last several months of arguments were among the toughest of his career.
“We've had some fairly bruising, bumping issues around. I've never been through one as complex as this,” says Gov. Bush.
The biggest sticking point was whether to limit the amount of money injured patients could collect for pain and suffering in malpractice lawsuits. Negotiators finally agreed to a $500,000 limit in most cases, going up to $2.5 million if a patient dies or ends up in a coma, but the medical malpractice reform bill is by no means a done deal. It could be a tough sell in the senate.
Many senators hated the idea of limiting victims' rights, but Sen. Tom Lee says the compromise is a good start.
“I really think this is going to dramatically reduce medical malpractice insurance premiums. There's no doubt in my mind about that,” says Lee.
But there are plenty of doubts about the reform proposal. Florida Hospital Association spokesman John Thrasher doesn't think it does enough to protect doctors.
“When we see in six months if things haven't changed dramatically, then I think the legislature will have to do the responsible thing and come back and look at it again,” Thrasher says.
First they have to get through it next week, and with no guarantee of a rate rollback in writing, some lawmakers say it's way too soon to celebrate. Next week's special session will be the third one on medical malpractice reform since the regular session ended in May. It begins Tuesday at 10 a.m. and runs through Friday at 7 p.m.