Editorial: Loophole in Oregon medical mediation law needs a fix

Oregon’s new law for mediation on medical errors has a feel-good quality to it that earned it strong support from legislators. It didn’t, however, do the critical job of capping malpractice awards. Now a report from a national consumer group shows it could allow bad doctors to hide their pasts as they move from state to state.

Gov. John Kitzhaber spearheaded the new law as a compromise after an earlier legislative session failed to act on malpractice reform. SB 483 was approved in the 2013 session and swiftly signed into law. It provides for confidential negotiations between patients and providers. The idea was to allow for constructive discussions to address and prevent medical errors, while at the same time preventing frivolous malpractice suits. But it didn’t set caps on malpractice awards, as some had advocated.

An additional problem was revealed Tuesday in a report from Public Citizen, a group founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader. The group said that because Oregon’s law doesn’t require reports to the National Practitioner Data Bank as malpractice settlements do, it could allow doctors’ troubled pasts to go undetected as they move from one state to another.

There’s much to like in the provisions of SB 483, but it’s essential to find a way to solve this new national data bank problem, as well as to cap malpractice awards.