Bill encourages doctors to stay

Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Alaska ranks 49th among all states in the number of physicians per capita, and the state's contingent of doctors is growing older, currently averaging age 51.

There are an estimated 186 doctors per 100,000 Alaska residents. Historically, Alaska has struggled to attract and keep an adequate number of qualified physicians, and many of the state's most experienced medical professionals will retire in the next five to 10 years, according to information gathered by Rep. Paul Seaton's office through the Alaska State Medical Board and the Department of Community and Economic Development.

House Bill 260 introduced last year by Seaton, R-Homer, and enjoying bipartisan support, could serve to encourage physicians and other health-care professionals to continue to deliver health-care services for free after they retire by exempting those services from malpractice liability. It would provide protection from civil liability for an act or omission during the delivery of free services.

"HB 260 would allow health-care providers to donate their professional services at a lower personal cost," Seaton said in a sponsor statement. "HB 260 will be especially helpful to retiring health professionals who wish to donate their services but do not still carry medical malpractice insurance. Forty-three other states have enacted similar legislation."

Seaton said Monday he hopes to see the bill reach the Senate floor soon, though just when that will happen isn't certain.

"With the budget stuff coming up, it is hard to tell when things will be moving," he said. "There have been a couple of minor changes and clarifications. Other than that, it looks like everybody is on board. I don't really anticipate any problems."

HB 260 easily passed the House near the end of the session last year and is in the Senate Rules Committee waiting scheduling for the Senate floor.

To qualify under its provisions, a physician or care professional would have to maintain a state license, and services provided would have to come under terms of that license. The law would cover services provided voluntarily and without pay.

Except in the case of an emergency, the physician would have to obtain the informed consent of the patient and provide advance written notice of the immunity.

The proposed amendments in HB 260 called the Volunteer Health Care Provider Act would not preclude liability for civil damages resulting from gross negligence or reckless or intentional misconduct, nor preclude the physician from receiving payment or being reimbursed for expenses, including travel and room and board while providing voluntary services.

A medical clinic or facility through which the volunteering physician delivered the free services would not be precluded from charging for services.

The bill would cover state licensed physicians, physician assistants, dentists, dental hygienists, osteopaths, optometrists, chiropractors, registered nurses, practical nurses, nurse midwives, advanced nurse practitioners, naturopaths, physical therapists, occupational therapists, marital and family therapists, psychologists, psychological associates, licensed clinical social workers and certified direct-entry midwives.

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