“Drive doctors out of Nevada” bill passes the Assembly

Victor Joecks

That’s not the official title of Assembly Bill 495, but it may as well be.

That bill, passed last week by the Nevada Assembly, would remove a voter-approved $350,000 cap on pain and suffering damages juries could award in medical malpratice cases. The cap is on pain and suffering awards, not economic ones.

The cap matters because without it juries can award millions to victims in pain and suffering damages, which increases the malpractice insurance of all doctors. And when costs increase, there is less of an incentive to work and more of an incentive to leave Nevada. Hmmm, that sounds familiar.

Why was the cap originally implemented? Here’s a letter explaining it, written by Keith Brill for the Review-Journal.

In 2002, there was a medical malpractice crisis in Nevada. I remember this because I was able to watch it happen while I worked as an active duty OB/GYN physician at Nellis Air Force Base. While civilian OB/GYN physicians were forced to leave Las Vegas due to skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums, and patients could not find doctors to deliver their babies in Las Vegas, I could not believe that our growing town would let this happen.

And then AB1 was passed in a special session of the Legislature in 2002. This provided some measure of tort reform. It wasn’t perfect, but it did improve things. And because of this, I decided to stay in Las Vegas as a civilian OB/GYN physician when I separated honorably from the Air Force in 2003.

Then in 2004, the voters of Nevada passed Question 3, which improved tort reform here in Nevada. This sensible legislation stabilized the malpractice insurance market in Nevada, and many insurers came back to our state. Indeed, new insurance companies were started as well, including my own malpractice insurance carrier, Premier Physicians Insurance Company, of which I am one of the physician owners.

And doctors came to our state as well. When I joined my current private OB/GYN practice, Women’s Specialty Care, in 2003, I was one of three physicians. As of today, my practice has 22 providers, including 17 physicians and 5 nurse practitioners. We have been able to attract some of the best doctors in the country because of the improved malpractice insurance climate and the desperate need for quality doctors after so many decided to leave in 2002.

The “Drive doctors out of Nevada” bill is now off to the Senate.