What can the General Assembly accomplish?

Though it may seem like a rhetorical question to ask “What can the General Assembly accomplish?” in an election year, there is still a significant opportunity for several important measures to pass. That is the Kentucky Chamber’s message to the legislature.  In spite of 2014 being an election year, lawmakers have an opportunity to make the 2014 session of the General Assembly as success. Tuesday, the Chamber’s public affairs team delivered our most recent Legislative Brief: Still time for session to be successful! to all lawmakers. In the brief, we outline specific key pieces of legislation hanging in the balance as the session winds to a close. In addition, we delivered Where We Stand, a comprehensive list of bills for which we have taken a position based on our board-approved legislative agenda.

The Chamber calling on all members to help us urge passage of these critical issues. Citizens can leave a message for their lawmakers quickly and easily by calling 1-800-372-7181 or email their representatives from the Kentucky Chamber’s Public Affairs website.

Healthcare and business groups launch ad campaign supporting medical malpractice reform

Members of the Care First Kentucky Coalition, including the Kentucky Chamber, have launched an ad campaign to spread public awareness and support for Senate Bill 119, commonsense legislation to protect all Kentucky caregivers from meritless lawsuits.

The focus of the advertisements, which include TV, radio and digital ads running across the Commonwealth, is to encourage the House of Representatives to take up the bill during the 2014 Legislative Session and finally give it a vote. Similar legislation has been proposed in past sessions, and each year the House has failed to act.

“The growing number of meritless lawsuits filed against caregivers increases healthcare costs for all Kentuckians,” said Dave Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “For far too long, personal injury lawyers—many from outside Kentucky—have treated our caregivers like their personal ATM machines. It needs to stop.  That’s why the Kentucky Chamber supports this effort to increase support for Medical Review Panel legislation and help fix our broken medical malpractice liability system.”

Kentucky’s healthcare and business communities are taking a stand to protect all caregivers against aggressive personal injury lawyers and meritless lawsuits that divert precious resources away from patient care and into lawyers’ pockets. The Coalition supports the creation of medical review panels (MRPs) to provide an independent, expert review of proposed claims against health care providers.

This process would not only weed out frivolous claims, but strengthen and expedite legitimate claims, putting squarely putting the focus of healthcare where it belongs, on patients, not lawsuits.

Watch the television ad here:

Listen to the radio ad here:

Advertisements as a part of this ad campaign were paid for by the Kentucky Chamber and the Kentucky Medical Association.

Support is Growing for Law to Address Frivolous Lawsuits

The Kentucky Senate took an important step in the fight to address the growing crisis in Kentucky of baseless lawsuits by personal injury attorneys against health care providers in the Commonwealth by passing Senate Bill 119. It is time for the House to take up this measure for a vote. The increased costs of fighting meritless lawsuits, many from out-of-state personal injury attorneys, impact health care costs through higher premiums paid by businesses and individuals. Worse, these cases clog our Courts and slow down the process for victims of actual wrongdoing. It is time for the Kentucky House of Representatives to take action and pass this important legislation. Every state that borders Kentucky has already taken action to curtail predatory attorneys – most have capped non-economic damages to curtail unreasonable “pain and suffering” payouts.

Senate Bill 119 takes a measured and reasonable approach to weed out junk lawsuits, while protecting and expediting the process for legitimate claims. SB 119, sponsored by state Senator Julie Denton, would put in place a review panel with expert physicians, one chosen by the claimant, one by the medical professional accused and a third agreed-upon expert to review the facts and provide this information to the Court. This system would, like it works in Indiana, accelerate legitimate claims for victims while providing a deterrent to the mass produced “sue and settle” lawsuits that plague Kentucky because of legislative inaction on this important issue.

The Kentucky Chamber strongly supports SB 119 and is working with a broad coalition of business and health care groups from across the state to pass this legislation this year. To learn more about our effort, visit Care First Kentucky. Read the recent editorial House should OK medical review panels from Business First Louisville that details the strong need for this legislation.  To better understand how this impacts your health care in Kentucky, read Meritless lawsuits weaken health care published in the Herald-Leader by Dr. Andrew Henderson. The most important thing you can do to help us address this issue this year is to pick up the phone for two minutes and leave your state representative a brief message. Call 1-800-372-7181 and let the operator on the legislative message line know that you would like for your state representative to “Ask for a vote this year to pass Senate Bill 119, a bill to enact medical review panels.” Let’s send the predatory personal injury lawyers to another state and protect the truly injured in our state. The phone call is the most effective way to reach your representative, but if you would prefer, you can send your representative an email from our website.

Senate passes Medical Review Panel legislation

Image

The Senate took an important step Wednesday to address a growing problem faced by Kentucky’s medical providers by reporting SB 119 from the Health and Welfare Committee. The escalating costs directly attributed to Kentucky’s uncontrolled medical liability climate are a serious concern for Kentucky employers and taxpayers who foot bill in terms of direct employee benefit costs and higher taxes.

SB 199, sponsored by Senator Julie Denton (Louisville), creates a fair, impartial process of medical review panels to deter meritless lawsuits against medical providers, while expediting the process for legitimate claims of malpractice. While these review panels are no where near the protections provided by most of our surrounding states who have enacted caps on non-economic damages, these review panels have proven to deter frivolous claims in other states. Kentucky, unlike every border state, has no protections in place to deter aggressive personal injury attorneys from wreaking havoc on Kentucky’s health care system.

Doctors and patients will benefit from a fair and impartial review. While physicians and other medical providers would benefit from limiting the line of out-of-state personal injury attorneys from exploiting our lack of liability protections, individuals who have experienced unfortunate situations where a medical provider has made a mistake would benefit by expediting the process. In other states with review panels, victims of malpractice often receive higher settlements in a shorter timeframe.

For more information about SB 119 and the coalition of business and medical groups from around the state supporting our effort, visit http://www.carefirstky.com.

Long-term care industry, others deserve relief from excess litigation

The following is an op-ed from Doug Alexander, executive director of the Partnership for Commonsense Justice. PCJ is a coalition of businesses and business groups, associations and individuals (including the Kentucky Chamber) dedicated to promoting and encouraging the need for fairness and excellence in Kentucky’s legal system.

The long-term care industry is the most heavily regulated health care industry in Kentucky. According to the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities, in addition to state requirements, health department regulations, fire and safety regulations and more, there are over 400 federal regulations with which operators must comply, not including OSHA requirements.

The health care industry in general and the long-term care industry in particular should be carefully regulated for reasons that are obvious to everyone. However, there is a side effect to regulation that has nothing to do with the quality of care or the effective delivery of services that cannot be ignored much longer.

The more abundant and specific are regulations governing any industry, the more opportunities there are to sue. That’s why the American Association for Justice, which represents the interests of trial lawyers, constantly lobbies for more and more rules and regulations governing everything.

By making the regulation of the long-term health care industry as meaningful and transparent as possible, something the industry itself has welcomed and encouraged, Kentucky has placed itself squarely in the cross hairs of predatory law firms from all over the United States intent on exploiting readily available and easily manipulated information.

The long-term health care industry’s reward for encouraging oversight and transparency is to invite lawsuits that drive up the cost of doing business and ultimately the cost of care to the very people the regulations are intended to benefit.

Many of these lawsuits have nothing to do with seeking redress for real negligence or wrongdoing or even with improving conditions for residents. If they exist at all, the alleged abuses often cited in advertisements seeking clients are often based on nothing more than citations for minor or correctable deficiencies. Some may have occurred and been corrected years in the past. Some may never have occurred at all. But because all citations must be reported, even those that are later proved to be unfounded, the data is easily exploited to prey on the emotions of seniors and their families in order to seek clients for litigation.

It is one thing to seek redress when a facility has been negligent. Every industry can and should be held accountable for its shortcomings. However, it is another thing altogether to take information intended to benefit consumers, and exploit it simply as a means of trolling for clients.

One of Kentucky’s largest providers of long-term care, Extendicare Health Services, has had enough. The company recently announced that it is leasing all of its nursing centers in Kentucky and leaving the state. In a May 14 news release, Tim Lukenda, president and CEO of Extendicare’s parent company, said that “the combination of a worsening litigation environment and the lack of any likelihood of tort reform in the State of Kentucky has made this the prudent decision for our company and unit holders.”

Although clearly under siege, the long-term care industry hasn’t asked for fewer regulations or relief from transparency requirements. It made a simple, reasonable and ultimately unsuccessful proposal in this year’s legislative session to create medical review panels to evaluate cases and determine whether the standard of care was met.

Trying to extort money from businesses using the courts is an all too common practice in our increasingly litigious society and no industry is immune.

Unfortunately, our failure to consider even modest and reasonable tort reforms like medical review panels and caps on runaway verdicts is earning Kentucky a reputation as a bad state in which to do business. The Institute for Legal Reform ranks Kentucky 40th among the states in the fairness of our litigation environment, down from 29th in 2008. Kentucky is 36th on the U.S. Tort Liability Index. In both studies we rank behind states with which we compete for jobs like Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia.

If Kentucky is ever going to compete on a level playing field, we have to recognize that our legal environment is going to be an increasingly important factor that companies will evaluate. Considering reforms that will help relieve the courts of meaningless and frivolous lawsuits will not deny anyone with a legitimate case their day in court or fair and reasonable compensation if their complaint is found to have merit.

A screening process for health care related cases would be a good start. If our goal is to create an environment where the highest quality and standard of care is the goal, one way we can achieve it is by creating a legal environment that encourages compliance and makes the court system fair and efficient for legitimate cases.

Trial lawyers gear up for more long term care suits

On the heels of long term care operator Extendicare announcing its departure from Kentucky because of the state’s worsening legal climate, trial lawyers are gathering in Covington in early June to discuss strategies on how to effectively sue long term care providers. Among the topics of discussion at the Kentucky Justice Association’s “Litigating Nursing Home Cases” seminar: challenging arbitration clauses, how to beat common medical defenses and how to “reach” a conservative jury.

In just the past few years, Kentucky’s long term care facilities have seen a drastic increase in lawsuits despite ranking above the national average for quality of care standards, compliance and staffing. Many of these suits originate from out-of-state law firms looking to take advantage of elderly Kentuckians and the state’s plaintiff-friendly legal system. Even if a claim is frivolous, providers are often forced to settle rather than challenge the claim in court, costing precious resources (including Medicaid dollars) that could be used for patient care. That’s why the Chamber fought for a measure this past legislative session to create medical review panels in long term care lawsuits as a way to validate legitimate claims and expose frivolous ones. If Kentucky wants to maintain its presence as a leader in the aging care industry, state lawmakers must act quickly to protect providers from increasing threats of liability.

Long term care operator pulls out of Kentucky, cites difficult legal climate

Extendicare Real Estate Investment Trust announced recently  that its wholly owned subsidiary, Extendicare Health Services, Inc. (EHSI) has entered into an agreement to lease all 21 of its skilled nursing centers in Kentucky to a third-party long-term care operator based in Texas. The reason for jumping ship? Kentucky’s increasingly burdensome legal environment.

“EHSI has operated within the State of Kentucky for over 35 years and as such, we did not arrive at this decision easily,” said Tim Lukenda, President and CEO of Extendicare REIT. “However, the combination of a worsening litigation environment and the lack of any likelihood of tort reform in the State of Kentucky has made this the prudent decision for our company and unitholders.”

The Chamber has long supported comprehensive tort reform to make Kentucky’s business climate more competitive, and this past session pushed a bill that would have established a medical review panel process for lawsuits against long term care facilities. The rising costs associated with medical malpractice liability continue to take a significant financial toll on Kentucky’s health care industry, resulting in increased costs for businesses and consumers and contributing to a shortage of medical professionals. EHSI’s exit should serve as a wake-up call for Kentucky lawmakers.

Tracking the battle over the federal health care law in court

Challenges to the health care law continue to meander their way around our federal court system. From Kaiser Health News, here’s the latest on where each of the 26 lawsuits stand:

Appeals Court Status & Rulings

  • Thomas More Law Center vs. Obama: Appeals court ruled law constitutional on June 29
  • Virginia vs. Sebelius: Oral arguments heard May 10
  • Liberty University vs. Giethner:  Oral arguments heard May 10
  • Florida vs. HHS: Oral arguments heard June 8
  • Baldwin & Pacific Justice Institute vs. Sebelius: Oral arguments heard July 13
  • Susan Seven-Sky vs. Holder: Oral arguments scheduled for Sept. 23

District Court Status & Rulings

  • Court overturned law or part of law: 2 cases
  • Court ruled law constitutional and dismissed case: 6 cases
  • Court dismissed for lack of standing or procedural problems: 9 cases
  • Court dismissed but gave plaintiff right to refile: 1 case
  • Court decision pending: 8 cases

Action Alert: Stop Lawsuit Loans

The Kentucky General Assembly is considering legislation that is being presented under the label of consumer protection, but does little more than legitimize questionable lending practices. HB 412 (Bell), which was rushed through the House last week, seeks to regulate the litigation financing industry (also known as lawsuit lending.) The industry involves advancing money at a high interest rate to plaintiffs engaged in pending litigation in return for a share of any future recovery. In a letter to lawmakers delivered on Tuesday, the Chamber expressed its concern that this bill does little to protect consumers, but rather encourages more litigation. It also legitimizes an industry that has been plagued by documented abuses, ranging from exploiting desperate plaintiffs to compromising the integrity of the legal system. Please help us stop this questionable practice by leaving a message for your state Senator at 1-800-372-7181 and urging him/her to vote no on HB 412.

House committee passes bill regulating litigation financing industry

The House Judiciary Committee reported favorably on a bill Wednesday that would regulate the third-party litigation financing industry. Litigation financing is a process in which a third party to a lawsuit provides a loan for an individual pursuing litigation in exchange for a share of any money awarded in the case. HB 412 appears to set forth a framework of regulation for the industry, but many argue is nothing more than a veiled attempt to legitimize a practice they contend takes advantage of desperate plaintiffs and encourages more litigation. At the insistence of the Kentucky Chamber, the legislation prohibits any funds from being used to fund an actual lawsuit. The bill is being pushed by litigation financing industry executives, with some input from the Attorney General’s office.

Although the measure passed 11-3, many committee members questioned the industry’s motives and suggested that it be tightly regulated by financial laws and held to the same scrutiny as banks. Companies typically charge 2%-4% interest per month, compounded annually at 24%-120%. An industry expert testifying in favor of the bill said the industry provides non-recourse payments, meaning clients are only responsible for paying back the advanced money if they prevail in the case. A representative for the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers spoke against the bill, calling it a “veneer” piece of legislation that fails to address the exorbitant interest rates and fees charged by the industry. Proponents framed the legislation as a way to protect consumers, arguing that because the practice already exists in Kentucky and will likely not go away, it must be regulated. The Chamber is monitoring this issue closely and will continue to encourage scrutiny of this issue.

The bill is now set to be heard in the House. Please tell us what you think of HB 412. Does HB 412 adequately regulate this industry?  Should the practice of litigation funding be outlawed? Send an email to Charles George at cgeorge@kychamber.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers

%d bloggers like this: