From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 11 - June10, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Special session slated

by Cat Urbigkit

At last Friday's Wyoming Legislature's Management Council meeting, Senate President April Brimmer Kunz and House Speaker Fred Parady jointly announced that a sufficient number of affirmative votes have been received from a recent written poll of members of the Fifty-Seventh Wyoming Legislature for the legislature to call itself into a special session.

The special session will convene on Monday, July 12, and is tentatively scheduled to last six days. The purpose of the special session is to address issues related to medical malpractice, malpractice insurance availability, and related potential judicial-system reforms.

Eighteen members of the Wyoming Senate voted in favor of holding a special session, while 10 members voted against calling the session, and two members have not yet returned their ballots. In the Wyoming House of Representatives, 48 members voted in the affirmative, while six members voted against the ballot, and six members have not yet returned their ballots.

Stan Cooper, State House District 20 Representative, said he supported the convening of the special session.

"I really think that this is an important issue," Cooper said. "It needs to be resolved. We have a real problem with our medical situation in Wyoming. It could get to the crisis point."

Cooper said in Wyoming, "It gets down to numbers." With about 600 doctors providing care for the state's 500,000 citizens, that's simply not high enough numbers to make insuring this group a profitable enterprise for an insurance company, he said.

Cooper said in terms of rural medicine, it's hard to provide quality care without some sort of help from the state.

The special session will look at a variety of medical issues, Cooper said, including constitutional amendments instituting caps on non-economic damages ("pain and suffering"), judicial reform, creation of a state risk-management pool for physicians, improvements in rural health care, alternative dispute resolution, increased funding for medical training programs and medical malpractice reform.

State House District 22 Representative Monte Olsen said he supports the special session as well, and with his role on the judicial committee, he'll be in the thick of the debate.

"This is not new," Olsen said. "Really what the special session is about is to talk about a lot of the bills and solutions debated during the budget session that were adamantly opposed by a lot of people who now want to look at a broader solution, instead of the silver bullet of tort reform.

"I do not believe tort reform will have any significant impact on the health care delivery in the state of Wyoming," Olsen said. "To bring a solution, it's going to have to take a number of measures." Olsen ran down a list of needed measures, from the state risk pool, to creation of a medical errors review panel and a professional review panel to examine the merits of potential lawsuits.

"It's going to take a cadre of different solutions to bring any resolution," Olsen said. "Let's do what we can to ensure quality health care in Wyoming."

Wyoming voters amended the Wyoming Constitution in November 2002 to allow the Wyoming Legislature to convene a special session. Prior to passage of the amendment, only the governor could call the legislature into special session. Since passage of the amendment, this is the first time the legislature has invoked the authority to call itself into a special session.

The Wyoming Medical Society supports the special session. WMS Executive Director Wendy Curran said in a statement: "The Wyoming Medical Society hopes the people of our state will join us in applauding the Wyoming Legislature for its decision to move ahead with a much-needed special session to address the medical liability crisis in our state. It's clear that a majority of legislators recognize that the situation has grown worse over the past few months, and that something needs to be done quickly before more patients lose access to health care services in their local communities.

"Wyoming people understand that this crisis drives up health care costs for everyone and threatens access to care as physicians are forced to restrict services, relocate to other states or retire early as their liability insurance becomes unaffordable or unavailable," Curran said. "Given the time constraints of a special session, the legislature may not be able to consider every possible option to address this crisis, but WMS hopes legislators will take whatever positive steps they can toward solutions that will start to offer some relief.

Curran concluded, "WMS urges Wyoming citizens to take part in these discussions and ask their legislators to support meaningful liability reform in the special session."

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