State enacts first 'early offer' malpractice reform

Critics now are firing back after New Hampshire became the first state to pass the historic early-offer bill (S.B. 406).

Overriding Gov. John Lynch's veto, the New Hampshire Legislature on June 27 enacted the first state-sponsored early-offer malpractice reform, a voluntary program in which providers and patients can settle medical liability claims out of court within 90 days to receive payment, AHA News Now reported.

The early-offer legislation is an alternative to litigation, providing a faster solution to medical injury events that sometimes can take years to resolve, according to supporters of the bill.

"For those who endure a medical mistake, a settlement within 90 days is far better than a lawsuit that could drag on for years," Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said in the AHA brief.

However, according to Concord, N.H., attorney Michael McGrath, the bill is unfair and unnecessary, he wrote in a Concord Monitor opinion piece. He said the bill would lead to higher insurance premiums and higher costs for healthcare, in general.

"Why create a government program to replace a free market procedure that works?" McGrath asked.

In addition, patients whose injuries may surface later may lose out down the road, New Hampshire-based Stephen Law Offices wrote in a blog post.

"If the injured victim enters the program and later opts out, will he or she be able to find a lawyer to take the case when their client has to pay the legal fees and costs of the other side if they don't receive 125 [percent] of the early offer that was previously received. The medical provider and insurance companies win most of these cases at present."

Elliot Health System President and CEO Doug Dean, nevertheless, noted that the patient is not required to engage in the program.

"The early offer program is optional. It is a voluntary system--something an individual could opt to participate in, or, if preferred, simply go the traditional route instead," Dean said in a Union Leader opinion column.

"Simply put, this process gets away from blame and focuses on helping resolve the patient's claim. After all, individuals become doctors and nurses to help people--not hurt them."

For more information:
- check out S.B. 406 bill
- see the AHA News Now brief
- here's the Concord Monitor opinion
- read the Stephen Law Offices blog post
- see the Union Leader opinion column

Related Articles:
How to apologize for adverse events
Beth Israel, Massachusetts hospitals test liability reform
Orszag: Ration care, overhaul tort to control costs
Can negotiation with judges solve malpractice crisis?