Business, health care groups buy $50k worth of ads to aid medical review panel bill

03/18/2014 12:20 PM

A coalition of Kentucky business and medical groups have launched a radio and television ad campaign to ratchet up pressure on House lawmakers to act on a bill that creates a panel to screen lawsuits brought against medical providers.

The more than $50,000 ad campaign is paid for by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and groups like the Kentucky Medical Association and Kentucky Hospital Association, among other groups. Bryan Sunderland, senior vice president of the Chamber, said the ads are meant to encourage lawmakers and their constituents to urge the House Health and Welfare Committee to take up Senate Bill 119, which would create the review panels.

The radio ad began today, while the TV spot starts Wednesday. Both run through the middle of next week, and the campaign includes digital ads that will run through the end of the legislation session that ends April 15, Sunderland said.

This is the latest example of public issue ad campaigns, which have become more common lobbying tools in recent sessions. Most notably, over-the-counter drug makers aired ads in 2011 and 2012 against a bill that was aimed at making ingredients for methamphetamine more difficult to get.

But Senate Bill 119, sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, has strong opposition from attorneys, the AARP and patients rights groups. They say medical review panels could put up barriers to people who have legitimate lawsuits against nursing homes or other medical providers for abusing or failing to properly treat them or their loved ones.

Business groups say Kentucky needs a better process to weed out frivolous lawsuits.

The three-member review panels would include a medical expert from each side, and those two would choose the third member. The group would examine the facts of the case to make a recommendation about whether it had merit before the case went to court.

Sunderland said Tuesday that those with legitimate lawsuits against nursing homes would benefit from the review panels because if the panel recommends that the plaintiff was aggrieved, that would significantly bolster leverage in the case or for a settlement. And he said that Kentucky’s medical providers are vulnerable to out-of-state law firms that see those facilities as easy targets.

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, has been one of the most vocal critics of the bill. He said Tuesday the new ad campaign is “corporate cronyism” for what he called “greedy” medical companies. And he said proponents have invented the notion of a medical lawsuit “crisis” in Kentucky.

Jones said he didn’t know if groups like the AARP would be running a counter ad campaign. But he said he was confident House Democrats wouldn’t go along with Senate Bill 119 this session.

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