By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) Speaker Tina Muna Barnes's legislation augmenting Guam's medical malpractice laws was drafted by the same doctors who oppose granting poor and working class patients an outlet to sue them for malpractice. Kandit also requested information from Sen. Telo Taitague, a leading proponent of due process rights for patients, which showed that Ms. Muna Barnes's bill is identical to draft legislation Francis Santos provided to senators prior to the third informational hearing on malpractice reform.
Mr. Santos is the chief financial officer of Guam Regional Medical City, one of the main parties to a malpractice suit by the parents of Baby Faith Taitague, the infant who died from malpractice following the birth of her and her twin sister.
Under current Guam law, if a person has been hurt by a doctor, or a doctor's negligence led to the death of a loved one, the aggrieved party cannot even begin the process of holding the doctor accountable without forking out tens of thousands of dollars in arbitration filing costs. This is because under the current law, in order to hold doctors accountable, medical malpractice arbitration is required at the expense of the party bringing the claim against the doctor. The pricetag for this arbitration rises to the hundreds of thousands once you factor in the cost of airfare and lodging for the arbitration panel to come to Guam. Put simply, the law makes it impossible for non-millionaires to seek justice and to hold bad doctors accountable. It protects bad doctors.
The speaker's legislation, Bill No. 248-35, introduced today, will continue to limit due process rights to the vast majority of Guam's population from being able to seek justice from doctors who botch medical procedures or cause death through malpractice. Her bill will take $100,000 of taxpayer money and place it into a fund from which patients may use to begin mandatory arbitration against doctors who hurt them.
That amount, in practice, will cover no more than two or three claims filing fees. It comes no where near the amount needed to bring an arbitration panel to Guam to adjudicate claims.
Despite three informational hearings conducted by health oversight chairwoman Sen. Therese Terlaje that included the heartbreaking testimonies of parents who lost their children to malpractice and a woman whose father is fighting for his life because of malpractice, Ms. Muna Barnes not only sided with doctors, she introduced special interest legislation that is favorable to them. Her bill does nothing to address the culture of doctor apathy toward accountability for their practice of medicine, while placing the financial burden of arbitration on taxpayers.
The speaker's policy director, Chirag Bhojwani, confirmed with Kandit and the other media stations that Ms. Muna Barnes's bill was drafted by doctors, who had been lobbying the senators. In fact, Mr. Bhojwani provided to the media screenshots of his messages with Dr. Tom Shieh, who confirms doctors's lobbying of this particular bill.
"They're not paid to lobby, they are affected stakeholders and not trying to pass or defeat a bill, but to share a concern" Mr. Bhojwani told the media, referring to the role these doctors have in the formulation of this special-interest legislation. "Just like we met with Mr. Lubofsky. Furthermore we met them about our bill and they shared their idea."
Despite Mr. Bhojwani's assurance that the involved doctors are "not trying to pass or defeat a bill, but to share a concern," Dr. Shieh, in his message to Mr. Bhojwani says otherwise: "It's a good bill it ensure access to arbitration the very complaint they said prevents access. So they should be happy, very happy. Have a good night. Aloha."
Dr. Shieh also has a message for proponents of full arbitration reform: "And don't forget to tell those who complain. To go and speak to their own doctors please. That is the best response."
But doctors were not the only ones involved in pushing the language of Bill 248 to senators. Prior to Ms. Terlaje's third informational hearing on potential medical malpractice reform, GRMC's top financial executive - Francis Santos - began lobbying senators with nearly identical language that Mr. Bhojwani said the doctors helped to create and that became Bill 248.
GRMC is the main party to a lawsuit by the parents of Baby Faith Taitague for medical malpractice that led to the infant's death late last year.
"This bill and how it was drafted disgusts me," said one senator who wished to remain anonymous.
As Kandit has reported, Sens. Terlaje and Taitague have been working together on draft legislation that will reform the Medical Malpractice Mandatory Arbitration Act.