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Medical malpractice reform ideas inch ahead in Oregon

The healthcare industry in Oregon and the rest of the country is generally acknowledged to be in a major state of disarray. That’s part of the inspiration behind such reform measures as the federal Affordable Care Act. Among the issues that gets a lot of rhetorical and media attention is that of civil litigation over claims of medical malpractice for such matters as doctor and hospital negligence resulting in injury, misdiagnoses and even wrongful death.

It must be noted that no one can peg exactly how much such lawsuits contribute to the cost of healthcare. Some put it as low as 1 percent. Others, such as doctors and hospitals, put it as high as 10 percent. That suggests other factors are bigger contributors to skyrocketing healthcare costs in the United States. Still, medical malpractice seems to be the target of choice for action.

Oregon is among the states looking at that bull’s-eye. There is a special workgroup made up of four legislators, a doctor, a health insurance executive, a personal injury lawyer and one member of the general public that is studying the issue and some of the key players on the panel say they think they’re making progress.

One key idea being studied would diffuse the potential for high-dollar malpractice suits by creating a safe forum in which malpractice claims could be talked through and hopefully resolved. The rough outline would have all parties to a claim come to a neutral ground. Nothing said around that table would be admissible in court later. If no agreement could be reached, the issue would go to mediation. And if that didn’t work, a lawsuit could follow.

Proponents say this “safe harbor” model would reduce the adversarial environment and promote timely and cost-effective resolutions of claims. On the other side are those who express concern that medical malpractice issues sometimes don’t surface right away, so reform with arbitrary time limits on making claims might be inappropriate.

The workgroup is supposed to give its final recommendations to the governor by the end of this month. Lawmakers say some type of reform measure could be approved next year. But they say, even if it does pass, its effect may not be too significant. So, pending anything meaningful, the waters of medical malpractice law will remain unsettled. Navigating those seas should be done with experienced legal help.

Source: OPB, “Legislators Wrestle With Revamping Oregon’s Health Care System,” Kristian Foden-Vencil, Sept. 10, 2012

  • The issues mentioned in this post are the type our firm handles. To learn more about this area of practice, please visit our Oregon medical malpractice page.