Slam poet Alex Brown shares his thoughts on the concept of freedom during the June 17 holiday celebration at Ypao Beach Park on Saturday June 19, 2021.

Pacific Daily News

With the support of more than 400 medical professionals, Vice President Tina Muña Barnes announced that she was withdrawing her support for a bill that would remove the mandatory arbitration requirement for people filing malpractice claims medical.

The measure was introduced by President Thérèse Terlaje.

Ten of the 15 members of Guam’s 36th legislature are now co-sponsors of Bill 112, a bipartisan group made up of everyone except Sen. Jim Moylan, Frank Blas Jr. and Mary Camacho Torres.

Muña Barnes wrote to the speaker, saying she supported the bill “because you informed me that you have spoken to the medical community on our island. However, I have received numerous calls from members. of the medical community to the contrary “.

According to Muña Barnes’ letter, she had requested a list of supporters from Terlaje’s office in order to hear their views. To date, she has not received one, the letter says.

The current law was the subject of a series of hearings in 2019, where local doctors opposed a repeal of the law, citing an increase in frivolous lawsuits and a deterrence of doctors practicing on the island as a consequence. possible.

The potential cost of reducing the already low number of specialists in Guam was too high, said Muña Barnes. There were 447 doctors, nurses and medical staff who signed his co-sponsorship withdrawal.

President Terlaje spoke with Pacific Daily News about the bill before Muña Barnes announced his withdrawal. She said the measure was intended to ensure that the rights of patients of all income levels are protected.

Current law requires a panel of three arbitrators to hear medical malpractice cases. According to Terlaje, the average cost of arbitration is between $ 40,000 and $ 60,000 per party per claim, not including legal fees and the costs of expert witnesses who must also be called.

Patients who wish to file malpractice claims have argued that the cost is too high.

Bill 112 would still allow pre-trial reviews by arbitration if the parties involved agreed, but would replace the three-person panel with a presiding judge.

“The bill also seeks to strike a balance and protect doctors and healthcare professionals from frivolous cases,” Terlaje said.

Some, including GMH medical staff chairman Dustin Prins, said a magistrate would not be enough.

Nurse practitioner Carla Haddock said judges can apply a state-based standard of medical care, while in Guam the shortage of specialists is leading some doctors to provide consultations outside of their immediate area of ​​expertise.

According to Terlaje, magistrate judges are controlled by the legislature and subject to the same ethical standards as other judges. They will also be informed in the same way as the members of the current arbitration panels, through expert witnesses.

“The entire American legal system relies on judicial officers to administer justice in all other cases of negligence. Parties who do not wish to resort to magistrates may agree to resort to arbitration,” she said. declared.

As for concerns about the standard of care, she said the bill uses the same standards currently in place. “If the current standard of care allows physicians to operate outside of their specialties due to the shortage of providers, then Bill 112 allows the same. “

“Threats to further limit access to specialist care in Guam are not a solution and do not make sense based on the continued special screening protections provided to physicians in the bill,” she said.

The repeal could also increase the costs of malpractice insurance, some say. Dr Hoa Nguyen said his clinic, the American Medical Center, already pays around $ 500,000 a year in premiums.

Terlaje maintains that there is no evidence of this claim, but the current law, enacted in 1991, was supposed to replace a 1975 law that also provided for compulsory arbitration. The 1975 law provided that “higher judgments, settlements and the filing of lawsuits increase the costs of malpractice insurance and make it totally unavailable.”

Muña Barnes introduced a bill in Guam’s 35th legislature that would repeal the mandatory medical malpractice arbitration law, but withdrew it after opposition from the medical community.

The vice president also introduced Bill 248-35, which would create a fund to help patients with the costs of arbitration through initial funding of $ 100,000 from GovGuam and a contribution of $ 150 from physicians. locals every year, but withdrew the measure again in May 2020.

Some in the medical community have expressed support for a solution similar to Bill 248-35, but according to Terlaje, estimates put the proposal on average to fund only 1.5 malpractice claims after the first year.

“No other proposal or solution has been proposed or put on the table by any senator during this term, with the exception of Bill 112,” she said.

Contact reporter Joe Taitano II at [email protected]

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