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Doctor liability bill now in House as well as Senate

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — One way or another, a local state senator hopes the Legislature will pass a bill giving state liability insurance to free clinic doctors.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the bill he introduced in April has 20 co-sponsors, but the Senate also has a logjam of bills as a result of disagreements over the chamber's operating rules. Only five legislative days remain in the session, which is the minimum number of days required to pass a bill, even a popular one.

In hopes that the medical liability bill will pass, Orr said Rep. Neal Morrison, D-Cullman, has agreed to sponsor the same bill in the House.

Morrison introduced his version May 15. The measure, assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, could pass in the remaining five days, but only if it advances rapidly.

The wording of Orr's bill is the same as that of Morrison's, and it is ready for a final vote in the Senate if legislation begins moving in the upper chamber.

Malpractice insurance

The bill would help doctors who volunteer at free clinics get malpractice insurance, encouraging retired physicians to donate their time.

Facilities like the Community Free Clinic of Decatur-Morgan County would have more retired physicians volunteering their time to treat patients if they had easier access to medical liability insurance coverage, Orr has said.

Both bills would provide retired physicians with state liability coverage through the Alabama Department of Public Health and the state's risk-management pool. If a patient sued a doctor who treated him at a free health clinic, the state liability insurance would provide the doctor's defense, Orr said.

At $348 per physician, liability coverage for the 25 to 40 retired doctors in the state who volunteer at free clinics would cost the state between $7,000 and $14,000 per year, Orr said.

The bill calls for the Department of Public Health to keep a list of doctors who are eligible for the coverage.

For people who have too much income for Medicaid but not enough money to buy health insurance, which often includes the working poor, free clinics provide regular medical care for little or no cost.

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