FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A panel of medical experts would review proposed medical malpractice claims against health care providers before they could be pursued in court under a bill the Kentucky Senate passed Wednesday.
The party-line vote in the Republican-led Senate followed a contentious debate on an issue that has drawn powerful interest groups on both sides.
The measure now goes to the Democratic-run House, where it faces a much tougher challenge.
Sen. Julie Denton, the bill's lead sponsor, said it is meant to speed up the review process and eliminate meritless medical malpractice suits that she claimed are forcing medical providers out of the state.
"This bill is about ensuring that we have access to the best health-care providers possible in our commonwealth," the Louisville Republican said. "And we are going to lose them, or we are not going to be able to attract them, if we don't address this issue."
Democratic Sen. Ray Jones II of Pikeville countered that inserting medical review panels into the medical malpractice process would hurt "the weakest, most vulnerable people in our society."
"This is a huge impediment to average folks to access the courts," he said.
The bill's supporters insisted it would not block people from having access to the court system.
The measure would create three-member expert panels to review evidence in cases before people could take claims to court. Each side would select one member. Those two experts would choose the third panelist.
The panels would offer opinions on whether standards of care were violated. They would not make findings of fact or conclusions of law.
"How is it fair for a panel to render an opinion, but not tell any of the parties the basis for the opinion?" Jones asked. "That can't be fair. That's fundamentally unconstitutional."
The Senate vote came hours after a Senate panel led by Denton revised the bill. One of the changes would make the panel's finding inadmissible in court if new substantial evidence surfaced later.
During the debate, Jones held up graphic photos of what he said were the results of medical malpractice. He offered a series of proposed changes to the bill, but the amendments were ruled out of order.
Influential groups have weighed in on the measure. The bill's supporters include several major health care providers and business organizations in the state, including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include AARP.
The legislation is Senate Bill 119.