A broad spectrum of nursing organizations representing 15,000 Washington nurses today gathered to urge the public to vote against the two medical malpractice initiatives on the November ballot, Initiative 330 (I-330) and Initiative 336 (I-336). They were joined by the respective Chairs of the Washington State Senate and House Health Care Committees, Sen. Karen Keiser, Burien, and Rep. Eileen Cody, RN, Seattle, and other nurse legislators including Rep. Dawn Morrell, Puyallup; Rep. Judy Clibborn, Mercer Island; and Rep. Tami Green, Lakewood.
"Washington nurses recognize that there are very important issues at stake in the debate of malpractice liability reform. However, neither I-330 nor I-336 provides a comprehensive solution that will ease the liability crisis or make hospitals safer," said Kim Armstrong, president of the Washington State Nurses Association. "Each initiative campaign is airing ads that play on people’s fear and emotions, instead of working together on a solution that will help both patients and providers."
I-330, which is backed by the Washington State Medical Association, was proposed for the purpose of lowering liability insurance rates. It claims to do this by placing a very low cap of $350,000 on non-economic damages. Yet, there is nothing in I-330 to hold insurance companies accountable to lower premiums if the cap were implemented or to force them to justify rate increases. I-330 is silent on the very issues that are being sold to the public as motivating factors for its existence.
I-336, supported by the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, takes a punitive approach toward health care providers who have committed malpractice, rather than addressing patient safety in a preventative way. It contains no improvements for health care systems, and does not include any sort of cap on non-economic damages.
"Let the Legislature do its job," said Rep. Eileen Cody, RN. "This is a complicated issue that can't be understood with 60 second sound bites. Neither the doctors nor the lawyers have agreed to a compromise. By voting No on these two medical malpractice initiatives, the public will force these two interest groups to come back to the Legislature and work toward comprehensive and fair legislation."
Armstrong pointed to a list of principles that nurses believe must be included in any approach to malpractice reform:
- Consumer access to affordable health care must guide efforts to address the liability crisis.
- Provider access to affordable liability insurance, as well as accountability and public disclosure for the insurance industry.
- Fair treatment for injured patients, including reasonable compensation and access to the civil justice system.
- A fair and reasonable cap on non-economic damages of $1 million with an annual adjustment for inflation.
- Prevention of medical injuries through systems-based approaches and new patient safety measures.
Armstrong said these measures are, "the first step toward a compromise. Not everyone gets what they want, but Washington patients and doctors win."
"We absolutely need to address patient safety in order to stop malpractice," said Sen. Karen Keiser. "When medical negligence results in death or injuries, patients must have the right of going to court. I-330 takes this right away by instituting mandatory binding arbitration."
"On behalf of the Washington State Nurses Association and the entire nursing community in this state, I urge you to vote NO on both medical malpractice initiatives, and send this matter and all interested parties back to the Legislature for a better solution," Armstrong said. "We can work together to create comprehensive medical malpractice package that won’t make people choose sides – and that solution must benefit both patients and health care providers."
Nursing organizations in attendance today included the Washington State Nurses Association, ARNPs United of Washington State, Washington Association of Nurse Anesthetists, Washington Chapter of American College of Nurse Midwives, and the Association of Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses.