FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A panel of doctors would have to review and approve malpractice lawsuits against nursing homes before they could proceed to court under a bill the Senate approved Wednesday.
The vote was 23-12, mainly along party lines, in the Republican-controlled chamber.
Republican Sen. Julie Denton of Louisville, the bill's sponsor, said the panel would weed out frivolous lawsuits filed by large, out-of-state law firms. She said the money currently spent on litigation would be better spent on care.
"We need to do some commonsense things so the people who are truly hurt have the opportunity to be compensated and the wrongs that were done to them righted," she said before the vote. "But at the same time we also need to protect not just the nursing home industry but the rest of us from those who would come in and prey upon families and individuals, and especially those who come in from out of state to take advantage of people for the almighty dollar."
Democratic Sen. Ray Jones of Pikeville, who voted against the bill, said the legislation only protects the billion-dollar nursing home industry. He held up poster-sized photos of bed sores and other signs of abuse and neglect of some nursing home residents. He said such victims should have direct access to the courts, which helps hold accountable abusive nursing homes.
"The only deterrent that will stop this (abuse) is the threat of litigation," Jones said.
He also accused the Republicans of railroading the bill through the Senate without a real discussion on the matter or consideration of Democratic amendments to the bill.
The bill would create a medical review panel made up of three licensed physicians in good standing with the state and one attorney who would serve as chair but would not vote. The panel would be required to decide within six months whether an accused nursing home has failed to meet the standards of care.
The overall cost of medical malpractice ranges from $55 billion to $200 billion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several states have passed measures to contain costs, such as limiting malpractice suit awards. And some of those states had the lowest levels of malpractice claims, according to the NCSL.
The bill will proceed to the House for consideration.
The legislation is Senate Bill 9.