Malpractice bill would not change standard of care
Speaker Therese Terlaje held a press conference on Friday to dispel concerns in the public and medical community around a bill to remove the mandatory arbitration requirement for malpractice claims on Guam.
Opponents of the current law, which requires a three-person arbitration panel to resolve medical malpractice claims on Guam, say the requirement is too costly and discourages claims.
Terlaje introduced Bill 112 to replace the arbitration panel with a screening overseen by a magistrate judge. She said Friday that freezing out claims from people who may not have the financial means to pursue one was an injustice that needed to be solved.
“People harmed by negligence are today being prohibited from pursuing justice. This reality has been made clear to us in the legislature, by the courts and by patients,” she said.
Allowing patients access to justice was the main aim of the measure she said, and arbitration would still be an option for consenting parties.
“Instead of having to come up with $40,000 to $50,000, before you even get to trial, you’re going to be able to come up with a, you know, a more affordable arbitration system to go through that or you’re going to be able to avail of the magistrate judge at no cost,” she said.
But a large number of doctors and other healthcare employees have come out in opposition to the proposed bill.
One petition from FHP Health Center and Take Care Insurance Company employees was signed by 121 employees.
“This bill will make it more difficult, if not impossible, to look for providers and specialists to move and practice on Guam,” it reads, citing the possibility of increased malpractice insurance costs and litigation.
Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes withdrew her co-sponsorship of the measure on Wednesday, as a result of the concerns from the medical community.
But Terlaje says that the current measure is the result of extensive research and time, meant to balance the need for malpractice claims to be accessible to all patients and the need to protect doctors. She acknowledged the unique standard of care on Guam, where specialists sometimes provide consultations outside of their immediate area of expertise.
According to Terlaje, Bill 112 would continue the special protection from litigation that doctors — which she said was not available to any other group of professionals on island — and expressly maintains the standard of care that allows specialists to operate the way that they do now.
Any claim that she had not consulted with members of the medical community on the measure, was false, she said.
There was tremendous political pressure not to move forward with the bill, Terljae said. “It pains me that my colleagues are being threatened or shut out for medical care for themselves and their families. And worse, that patients in great need, are being refused care because of introduction of this bill,” she stated.
The bill received broad, bipartisan support from lawmakers, with 10 of 15 members of the 36th Guam Legislature signed on as cosponsors, all but Sens. Jim Moylan, Frank Blas Jr., Mary Camacho Torres, and now, the vice speaker.
“To my colleagues, I want to thank you for enduring this tremendous political pressure in order to do the right thing for the people of Guam,” she said.
They will continue to go through with the legislative process, and she requested input from members of the medical community as to how Bill 112 could be strengthened. Her office was working to determine if there would be any effect on the costs of malpractice insurance, as well.
“We have many great doctors here. And not a single one of us in the Legislature wishes to impede their livelihood. I am asking the medical community to continue to come forward in good faith, to attend our public hearings with productivity, and to send in your suggestions.”
Bill 112 would not require doctors to do anything that they were not already obligated to do, she said. She also encouraged members of the public to continue to come out to the public hearings, provide their stories, and do their own research.
Public hearings for Bill 112 are scheduled from 5 to 8:30 p.m. July 7 and July 12. All hearings will be broadcast on GTA TV Channel 21, Docomo Channel 117/112.4, and via Guam Legislature Media on Youtube.
Medical professionals and the public are invited to submit testimony on the bill at the Guam Congress Building or via Zoom. To provide written or verbal testimony, contact the Office of Speaker Therese Terlaje at (671) 472-3586 or email@example.com by July 6.
Reach reporter Joe Taitano II at firstname.lastname@example.org.