Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida lawmakers seek Medicaid doctors', hospitals', nursing homes' liability limits

TALLAHASSEE — A baby's brain is damaged in a botched surgery. A 10-year-old in Florida's child-welfare system is tortured and killed as her helpless brother listens in torment.

These ripped-from-the-headlines cases are recipes for easy lawsuits — but that could change if Republican lawmakers get their way.

In the midst of expanding HMO-style management in Medicaid, the Legislature is passing a raft of proposals that limit the liability of Medicaid doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and private community-based care companies.

Backers of the legislation include doctors and hospitals. They say the underlying logic is simple: Give Medicaid providers and child-welfare companies lawsuit protections because they're acting on behalf of the state, which is shielded from lawsuits.

But opponents — Democrats and trial attorneys — say the Legislature is letting bad actors off the hook while protecting the profits of the insurance industry.

"This bill is affecting the most vulnerable and needy people in the state of Florida — those are disabled children," Maria Tejedor, an Orlando trial attorney, told lawmakers last week. "It creates two doors to the courthouse: One for the haves. And one for the have-nots."

But Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican and chair of the Senate's health budget committee, said lawmakers are trying to strike "a delicate balance … We want to protect access to the courts. But we have to make sure that, with the public funds we're spending, there's insurance available to pay these claims."

Under the House Medicaid bill, a Medicaid recipient is limited to receiving a maximum of $300,000 in malpractice and other tort cases for so-called "noneconomic damages," such as pain-and-suffering awards. Current law generally limits medical-malpractice awards to $500,000 — except in egregious cases.

Tejedor said the stricter cap on the state's 3 million Medicaid recipients, who are poor and disabled, would make it nearly impossible for attorneys such as her to shoulder the expense of investigating, gathering evidence and hiring expert witnesses.

Citing statistics from the state agency overseeing Medicaid, Tejedor said trial attorneys have returned $20 million to the state since 2003 in medical-malpractice cases. She said the lawsuit settlements have also helped the injured parties get off Medicaid and, therefore, spare taxpayers from expensive treatments.

Case in point: Isaac Rosario, a 3-year-old boy whom she said was injured when medical staff at Orange County's Winnie Palmer Hospital accidentally injected food into his head and "blew the child's brain out." She said Medicaid has paid for $715,000 worth of treatment in two years.

A Winnie Palmer spokesman confirmed the case, which was recently settled, but declined further comment.

The House Medicaid bill sponsor, Republican Rob Schenck of Spring Hill, downplayed the lawsuit caps and said trial attorneys would have to be guided by their own "morals" in deciding whether to take a case. He also cast doubt on the statistics cited by Tejedor.

"I find it hard to believe we would take a trial attorney's opinion on what costs the state and what doesn't cost the state," Schenck said.

Tejedor noted that medical-malpractice insurance rates are down, profits are up and the number of doctors has increased in Florida since it reformed liability laws in 2003.

But Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, pointed to other statistics noting other problems with Florida's health market.

"We have the lowest ratio of doctors per senior. We have the lowest ratio of surgeons. And we're at half the national average for emergency room residents," he said. "Does that sound like, perhaps, we have a shortage of physicians?"

Another House bill caps liability for community-based care providers. It passed Monday in a committee. The House Medicaid bill was debated Tuesday on the full floor and is scheduled for a vote Thursday.

The Senate's Medicaid bill, which will be heard Wednesday in the Senate's Health Regulation Committee, caps some nursing home damages at $250,000, gives robust legal protections to doctors at teaching hospitals such as Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital and also limits liability of community-based care providers.

The proposal was filed before the grisly death in February of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona, who was stuffed in a garbage bag, in the back of her adoptive father's pickup truck. Her twin brother, Victor, was poisoned with pesticides and near death.

Trial attorney Gary Farmer said Victor's treatment won't be cheap.

"This little boy," he said, "has spent more than a week in Miami Jackson's burn unit. He was soaked head-to-toe in chemicals. … He's going to be dealing with a lifetime of care, just to the injuries to his skin."

Our Kids, the Miami community-based care agency overseeing Victor and Nubia's care, acknowledged it made mistakes. But CEO Frances P. Allegra took issue with the trial-lawyer description of the bill as the "Barahona Relief Act.''

Allegra said the bill isn't retroactive, so the agency can still be sued under existing tort laws. She said insurance rates are rising, leaving a little less money for child-welfare services.

"The people in this business care about children," Allegra said. "The debate makes it sound like there are bad people out there serving kids — and that's just not true."

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@miamiherald.com.

Florida lawmakers seek Medicaid doctors', hospitals', nursing homes' liability limits 03/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 7:53am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. University student accused of making bomb threat on Snapchat

    Crime

    DELAND — A Florida university student is accused of making threats on Snapchat to "bomb" or "gas" the campus.

    Stetson University freshman Griffin Powell, 18, is accused of making threats on Snapchat to "bomb" or "gas" the campus in DeLand.


  2. Tiki Barber will join his brother, Ronde, on Fox broadcast for Bucs-Giants

    Bucs

    FOX announced Monday night that former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber will have a familiar face joining him as a guest analyst for the Oct. 1 Bucs-Giants game in Tampa: his twin brother Tiki, who will join …

    Tiki Barber, right, will join his brother, Ronde, left, as a guest analyst on the Oct. 1 Bucs-Giants broadcast on FOX. [Times files (2006)]
  3. Cannons will fire again when Bucs return to Raymond James Stadium

    Bucs

    As good as the Bucs looked in their season-opening 29-7 win against the Bears on Sunday, fans couldn't help but notice that the success didn't sound the same at Raymond James Stadium.

     Ron Gutschmidt is perched on top of the Buccaneer pirate ship ready to activate the ship's cannons with the press of a button after a Buccaneer touchdown. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  4. Rick and Tom podcast: How should Joe Maddon be remembered tonight?

    The Heater

    Rick Stroud and Tom Jones talk about Joe Maddon's return to Tropicana Field for the first time since he left the Rays in 2014 in the latest edition of our Rick and Tom podcast. They discuss the mixed emotions …

    Joe Maddon returns to Tropicana Field tonight for the first time since he left the Rays in 2014. [Getty Images]
  5. Watch live: President Trump's speech to the U.N. General Assembly

    World

    UNITED NATIONS — U.S. President Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron are expected to take the spotlight at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations — but it's the tough global challenges from the nuclear threat in North Korea and the plight of Myanmar's minority Muslims to the …

    President Donald Trump shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, in New York. [Associated Press]