Malpractice, ODs, and a big database on tap for discussion

Lawmakers are hearing testimony on several health-related bills today, including:

Treatment for drug overdoses: Current law allows health care professionals to prescribe opioid antagonists — medications that can treat or prevent a drug overdose — to drug users, without being liable for damages. The proposal would remove the reference to drug users, allowing prescribers to give the medication to family members or friends of drug users so they could potentially prevent an overdose before emergency responders arrive. The bill has the support of the state departments of public health and mental health and addiction services, as well as people who work with drug users. Some lawmakers have raised concerns about how it would work in practice.

Medical malpractice: Doctors and plaintiff lawyers are sharply divided on a proposal that would change a requirement for filing a malpractice lawsuit. Under a 2005 state tort reform law, anyone who files a medical malpractice lawsuit must submit a written opinion, known as a certificate of merit, from a “similar health care provider” to the one being sued, testifying to the appearance of medical negligence. The proposal would change that requirement to a “qualified” health care provider. Supporters say the current law has led to cases being dismissed because the physicians who wrote opinion letters weren’t considered similar to the ones being sued, including a case in which a lawsuit against an emergency physician was dismissed because the opinion letter was written by a doctor who spent most of his work time in an emergency department but described himself as practicing trauma surgery. Opponents say it would gut a malpractice reform created as part of a compromise in 2005 and could make it harder for the state to attract or retain physicians, hurting patients’ access to care. A similar bill passed the House last year and was debated in the Senate on the final day of the session before being tabled. The Senate ultimately took no action, killing the measure.

Create an all-payer claims database: A proposal from the governor’s office would create a database of health care claims information that would provide information about the use, cost and effectiveness of medical services in the state. Several other states, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, have similar databases. Supporters say they can provide consumers with the ability to comparison shop for health care the way they would for other products and could increase transparency in health care. But the concept has drawn concern from some people worried about how patients’ privacy will be protected. States have used different approaches to protecting the information, including using data that has been scrubbed of patients’ identity, encrypting patient identifiers, or not allowing it to be released to the public.