House OKs med malpractice panel changes


The New Hampshire House passed a bill Tuesday that would allow those in front of a medical malpractice screening panel to give “offers of proof” – documentary evidence – about the charges, as opposed to providing the testimony of live witnesses, in order to reduce costs.This would be a major change for the panel, which lawmakers set up in 2005 to reduce costs. However, opponents said that these hearings have nearly turned into the equivalent of full-fledged trials.The measure approved Tuesday -- House Bill 50 -- started out as a bill to repeal the screening panels altogether, but it was amended to eliminate live witnesses, a position the House adopted last year, only to have it defeated by the Senate. “Rather than have full trials before the panel, this would save time for the plaintiffs, the doctors , well as the insurance companies,” said Rep. Robert Rowe, R-Amherst.Opponents, however, were worried that this would allow dubious cases to get through to the courts that never should have seen the light of day.“We need to find ways to decrease medical malpractice insurance,” said Rep. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, who called the panels an “experiment in self-governance.“ The House passed the bill on a 330-19 vote.In other business affecting business, the House: • Tabled HB 133, which would require those that lay off more than 50 employees to provide information about grants, other layoffs and hires during the calendar year and the number of jobs outsourced to other countries. Opponents said their main objection to the bill was that the trigger should be 75 employees, the level of the state’s WARN act, which took effect at the beginning of the year. • Recommitted HB 558, a bill to set up a procedure to lease out state parks and ski area to private businesses, with a public benefit analysis and a separate committee to evaluate and oversee those lease. (The bill would not have alter existing leases such as Sunapee and Cannon Mountain.) Opponents said it would create bureaucratic barriers that would prevent leasing, whereas supporters said it simply clarifies the rules and protects local communities. • Killed HB 401, an attempt to reduce the number of members on the state retirement system board from 14 to 8, knocking off representatives from beneficiary groups, such as police, fire and municipal workers. Supporters said the boards are dominated by beneficiaries, make riskier investments to get higher returns, and those risks hurt the fund in the long run. Opponents said the retirement committee has already set up an independent investment committee that didn’t have representatives of beneficiary groups on it. – BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW
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