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Leesville Daily Leader - Leesville, LA
  • Amendment 3: Protecting the Patient’s Compensation Fund

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  • Amendment 3, which voters will face on the Oct. 22 ballot, would make clear in the Constitution that monies deposited into the Patient’s Compensation Fund are not public dollars and are not available for appropriation by the Legislature, according to the Public Affairs Research Council (www.la-par.org).
    The amendment would protect the Fund as self-generated, private monies to be used only for the benefit and protection of medical malpractice claimants and qualified health care providers. Additionally the amendment would clarify that the Fund is exempt from participation in guaranty funds such as LIGA.
    The amendment would make clear that the Legislature is not required to appropriate monies for the Fund. If the state wanted to appropriate money to the Fund it could still do so. Companion legislation passed in the 2011 regular legislative session would replicate the proposed amendment language in statute.
    This amendment would not change how malpractice suits are handled or the way assets of the Fund are utilized currently.
    A vote for the amendment would protect the Patient’s Compensation Fund from legislative appropriation by establishing it in the Constitution and defining it as a private custodial fund to be used only for the benefit and protection of medical malpractice claimants and qualified health care providers.
    A vote against the amendment would retain the existing statutory definition of the Patient’s Compensation Fund, which could subject the Fund to appropriation by the Legislature for other budgeting purposes.
    Proponents of the amendment argue that the dollars in the Patient’s Compensation Fund are paid by private health care providers and should remain dedicated to their private, originally intended purpose—the protection of medical malpractice claimants. If the Fund is established only in statute and is not defined as a private fund within the Constitution, the Legislature could change the statutory language at any time and use the dollars in the Fund for other budget purposes. Such an act by the Legislature would shake confidence in the health care provider community and potentially raise the cost of medical malpractice coverage in Louisiana. The amendment also would assure participating health care providers that they will not be hit with an additional assessment to provide guaranty coverage of the Fund. As a protection for the public, the amendment ensures that the state is not responsible for payment of any of the fund’s legal obligations.
    An argument against this proposal is that the current Fund already is covered in the statutes and this amendment would add another special section to our cluttered constitution. The Legislature has not even threatened to raid the fund to balance the general budget; by proposing this amendment the Legislature is fixing something that it hasn’t yet broken. Many other funds established by the state for special interest groups also would like protection under the Constitution, which could become more clogged with exceptions and minutia. The amendment would give the Fund a constitutional exemption from participating in a guaranty fund such as LIGA whereas that exemption could be protected adequately by statute. Also, inserting appropriations restrictions into the Constitution limits the Legislature’s flexibility. Although the proposal prohibits legislative withdrawals from the Fund, it allows lawmakers to deposit money into the Fund, creating a private entity with an option for a public bailout in the event of financial distress.
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