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New laws in two slates will improve patient safety.

Two states recently passed legislation that will help protect health care consumers--one by potentially leveling doctors' malpractice insurance so insurers have less ability to manipulate the medical insurance market and create a "tort liability crisis," and the other by strengthening physician oversight and discipline.

On July 10, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R) signed into law House Bill 1837, which provides the state insurance director with greater power to reject medical malpractice liability insurance rates that are deemed "excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory."

The new law doesn't set specific guidelines to follow but instead provides several criteria the director should take into consideration, such as inflation rates; the location of an insured's health care practice; and the insurer's loss experience in that state, investment income and losses, and administrative and defense costs.

The law also requires insurers to provide more information about how they set rates, give clients 60 days' written notice before raising rates more than 15 percent or failing to renew a policy, and supply six months' notice before leaving the market.

North Carolina legislators unanimously passed House Bill 1301, awaiting signature by Gov. Mike Easley (D), which strengthens the authority of the state medical board to discipline physicians.

The bill will allow the medical board to discipline physicians without receiving their consent. Under current law, the board had to receive the physician's permission or engage in a full review process--akin to a public hearing--before taking any action.

Specifically, the bill authorizes the board to issue public reprimands, place physicians on probation and assess monetary penalties, and deny licenses to physicians who have not practiced for more than two years. The bill also

* allows the board to nominate a hearing committee of three or more of its members to conduct proceedings and make recommendations

* requires the board to report crimes to law enforcement

* requires physicians to report to the board any felonies or indictments within 30 days

* requires hospitals to report disciplinary action against a physician, including voluntary reductions of privileges

* requires organizations engaging in peer review to report physician conduct that poses an imminent danger to the public or to the physician

* requires insurance companies to report verdicts and settlements against physicians and imposes penalties for an insurance company's failure to make a required report.

Unfortunately, a few measures in the bill should cause consumers concern. It includes a broad confidentiality provision for the board's investigative information and provides immunity to those involved in investigations and those who give medical opinions in connection with licensing actions.
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Date:Sep 1, 2006
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