Doctors speak out in show of force against medical malpractice bill

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Guam's medical community joined forces to present a united front to speak out against Bill 112. (PNC video capture)

Guam’s medical community pushed back hard today on Bill 112.

Members of Guam’s medical community joined forces to present a united front to speak out against Bill 112.

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Dr. Thomas Shieh, the president of the Guam Medical Association, said: “We have a lot of providers representing almost every field on island. We all heard very much from health chair Speaker Terlaje, so we want to take this opportunity to hear us and our concerns for this controversial Bill 112. We are not here to discuss the technical aspects of this bill, but we are here to share our heartfelt thoughts on the ramifications of this dangerous bill. We all oppose Bill 112. The bill hinders access to healthcare for women and children.”

Bill 112, which was introduced by Senator Therese Terlaje, would replace the current procedure for those who seek a medical malpractice claim.

Currently, those who wish to seek a malpractice claim would have to submit their claim to an arbitration process, which has been estimated to cost around $50,000.

Senator Terlaje and the bill’s supporters say that the cost of arbitration creates a barrier to justice for everyone but the rich and they wish to replace the three-person arbitration panel with a magistrate who would screen malpractice claims to protect providers from frivolous claims.

The medical providers at the panel said that removing the arbitration process lowers that barrier at too high a cost, especially considering that a small percentage of malpractice suits nationwide are actually found in favor of the plaintiff.

In exchange for easing the prosecution of a small percentage of legitimate malpractice claims, the panel says the language of Bill 112 exposes good providers to too much risk of liability.

As a result, many providers are contemplating leaving island or limiting the scope of their practice.

Dr. Mike Cruz, president and CEO of GRMC, echoed the comments of many who said that specialists who were considering practicing on Guam have changed their minds because of the economics of the medical field and those that are here are considering leaving.

According to the panel, given Guam’s population, and the likelihood that medical malpractice insurance would increase with the passage of Bill 112, many specialists say that practicing is not economically feasible.

The panel said that the lack of specialists already threatens Guam’s fragile medical system and the passage of Bill 112 could be catastrophic.

“They’ve told us that they will more than likely exit from the market. Because of the smallness of Guam’s pool, it wouldn’t be worth it to stay in it. And if they did decide to stay, it would increase our premiums by a significant amount. That will have a domino effect on everybody else who’s currently buying healthcare insurance on Guam.”

But what about those that Bill 112 wants to protect? How will those who have a legitimate malpractice claim and don’t have $50,000 immediately available seek justice?

GMH administrator Lillian Perez-Posadas said that she thinks Guam’s medical licensing boards should be strengthened and given more resources to investigate claims of malpractice and Dr. Hsieh agreed that this is the practice in other jurisdictions.

“Provide a licensing board with the resources they need to properly investigate these claims. They don’t have the resources. Provide the resources. We haven’t heard from the head chair of health if she is going to provide these resources. We’ve asked them. She hasn’t responded,” Shieh said.

He added: “Is that a model that’s used typically in other jurisdictions? Absolutely it is. The resources are there. They’re the investigative board. Provide them the resources, so they can vet the complaints. There’s a peer review process set up. We all have peer reviews at the hospitals. Medicine is complex, and I think Lillian said it perfectly.”

GRMC surgeon Dr. Ricardo Eusebio said that he thinks the costs should be reduced on the side of the lawyers on the arbitration panel since much of the cost is driven by their fees.

One point that was emphasized by the panel is that contrary to statements made by the Speaker, Bill 112 was not written in collaboration with the medical community.

Also, Dr. Shieh said that he invited Senator Terlaje to the panel.

Terlaje, however, was not in attendance.

Dr. Ed Shroeder of Health Services of the Pacific said that the medical community isn’t insensitive to those who Bill 112 tries to protect but that there are ways to develop a solution that benefits all parties and doesn’t threaten the island’s medical system.

“I think it’s a good question because actually many of us are in sympathy for patients who cannot afford to seek arbitration. And many of us agree that that can be addressed, without throwing out the whole malpractice…the whole arbitration process. We can find a way to ease the financial burden…so that people can bring a suit. But it doesn’t have to involve abolishing the mandatory arbitration,” Schroeder said.

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