Protestors Turn Out Against Michigan Malpractice Immunity Bill

Hundreds of protestors turned out in Michigan’s capitol city of Lansing this week to speak out against a proposed bill that could provide doctors with immunity from medical malpractice lawsuits in many situations. 

The protesters came on Wednesday morning, as the state’s Senate Insurance Committee met to hold a hearing on proposed legislation known as the “Patients First Reform Package”.

Opponents of the package maintain that the legislation would be anything but “patients first.” In fact, one of the bills that is a part of that package specifically blocks patients from seeking compensation for medical malpractice, as long as the doctor can show that he thought he was doing the right thing.

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Senate Bill 1116 (PDF) states that a doctor could not be held liable in Michigan if “the person acts with a reasonable and good-faith belief that the person’s conduct is both well founded in medicine and in the best interests of the patient.”

That is a far departure from most malpractice standards, and has been interpreted to mean that even if a doctor was negligent and ignorant of the proper medical procedures, as long as they thought they were doing the right thing they cannot be held accountable for the consequences of their actions.

The bill is being championed by the Michigan State Medical Society, which maintains that the language means that a doctor must still meet standards of care and the group indicates that such reform measures are necessary to keep the state attractive for physicians.

An estimated 300 protesters on the streets of the capitol before the vote disagreed, calling it an immunity bill for bad doctors. They also protested Senate Bill 1115, which would set a malpractice cap that would override the decision of the jury that heard the case about how much patients should be compensated when doctors make mistakes that injury or kill them.

Opponents say that when taken together, along with two other bills that are part of the package, it is hard to see what about the legislation puts patients first.

The Senate Insurance Committee is not expected to vote on the bill package until at least next month, when the state legislative session resumes following recess.

The hearing came just days after the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen released a report that found payments for medical malpractice are on the decline, and such expenses are a much smaller part of healthcare costs in this country than advocates for tort reform portray. The report also highlighted how stringent malpractice reform measures enacted over the past decade, such as those in Texas, have failed to produce cost savings or better healthcare for the state’s residents.

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