Christine Jordan Sexton - March 8, 2023
Medical costs are among a trio of thorny issues in the omnibus tort bills that continue to be hammered out between the legislative chambers according to Sen. Travis Hutson, primary sponsor of SB 236.
“Those issues are not set in stone even as we speak right now,” Hutson told members of a Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Tuesday night who voted 8-3 to advance his lawsuit limits bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Two highly watched bills aim to rein in the use of what are known as “letters of protection” (LOP). LOPs are sent to surgeons who treat injured people. Plaintiffs’ attorneys use LOPs to guarantee the providers’ medical payments from future lawsuits settlement or verdict awards.
Travis Hutson addresses medical costs in his latest bill on changes to Florida’s tort situation.
SB 236 and its counterpart HB 837 would require surgeons and other providers who treat insured patients to accept negotiated reimbursement costs. For uninsured patients, the bills would cap charges at Medicare or Medicaid rates. The Senate bill would cap providers at 120% of Medicare rates in effect at the time or if there is no Medicare rate, 170% of the applicable Medicaid rate.
The House bill also would cap reimbursements at the Medicare rate. But if there’s no applicable Medicare rate, 140% of the Medicaid rate.
Surgeons have come to Tallahassee in droves to testify against both bills, saying the provision would adversely impact the uninsured who won’t be able to find surgeons willing to take their complex cases.
But proponents of the restrictions say LOPs inflate the patient’s medical costs and in turn fuel large jury verdicts. The reason? The higher the costs of past care, the higher the costs of future care and the higher the amount of pain and suffering juries are willing to award
Florida Justice Reform Institute President William Large said tackling the LOPs situation is “the most significant” civil reform that could be made this session. At an Associated Industries of Florida meeting earlier this year, Large said lawsuits with past medical costs of $90,000 or more can yield big verdict returns.