Arkansas Hospital, Medical Groups Endorse Proposed Issue 4 Tort Reform Measure

The Arkansas Hospital Association and the Arkansas Medical Society have endorsed Issue 4, the proposed constitutional amendment directing the Legislature to set caps of at least $250,000 on non-economic damages in medical lawsuits and limiting attorney contingency fees to one-third of jury awards after expenses.

The two associations announced that their governing boards had formally endorsed the amendment in a joint press release Monday. Voters will decide on the amendment in the November 8 elections if the proposal survives two lawsuits.

In the release, Robert “Bo” Ryall, president of the Arkansas Hospital Association (AHA), said, “Arkansas’ hospitals support Issue 4 because we want it to be feasible for our physicians and your local hospital to continue caring for you when you need them. The passage of Issue 4 will empower physicians and hospitals to focus on the medicine, diagnoses and treatments that are best for you, instead of being distracted from your care by the possibility of lawsuits.”

David Wroten, executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society (AMS), said, “Patients deserve the reform provided by Issue 4 because they are the ones who ultimately pay the real cost. … Physicians do consider a state’s tort reform environment when deciding where to practice and what to practice. The constant threat of frivolous lawsuits generates higher healthcare costs and creates distractions to patient-centered care. Without Issue 4, doctors may choose not to practice here, in a small town in Arkansas that desperately needs local healthcare.”

Darren Caldwell of Newport, chairman of the AHA Board of Directors and CEO of Unity Health-Harris Medical Center, said in the release the amendment would create more consistency in lawsuits throughout the state.

The amendment affects all medical lawsuits, but so far it’s been mostly the Arkansas Health Care Association (AHCA), which represents nursing homes, taking the lead and the heat. As of Aug. 31, the sponsor of the amendment, Health Care Access for Arkansans, had reported raising $933,110. The AHCA initially provided $330,000 for the effort and registered as its own ballot committee, and individual nursing home providers and others associated with the industry have provided much of the rest of the funding.

Asked why the Arkansas Medical Society had waited until Oct. 10 to officially state its support, Wroten said in an email, “We felt like it was important to get our members educated about our support before going public.” Asked if the AMS would be supporting the effort financially, Wroten said, “We will be doing our own outreach in support of the amendment. To the extent there is a cost for that, yes.”

Ryall gave a similar answer, saying his group “wanted to educate our membership on Issue 4 before taking a public position.” He said his group will be spending money in support of the issue.

The amendment is the subject of two lawsuits in the Arkansas Supreme Court seeking to remove it from consideration – one brought by five individuals and the Committee to Protect AR Families. Retired judge J.W. Looney, a special master appointed by the Court, reported Sept. 28 that the amendment could be disqualified from the ballot over signature issues. Looney wrote that potentially all signatures could be disqualified because the sponsor had failed to certify to Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office that criminal background checks had been completed on each paid canvasser.

Meanwhile, enough signatures could be disqualified for other reasons to drop the amendment below the required 84,859 valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

The other lawsuit brought by two Arkansans on behalf of Fairness for Arkansas, a creation of the Arkansas Bar Association, says the ballot title is misleading.

Talk Business & Politics sought from the Committee to Protect AR Families and Fairness for Arkansas and will update this story if comment is received.