NC House overrides 3 Perdue vetoes to make laws


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  • July 28, 2011

RALEIGH N.C. — Victims of North Carolina doctors guilty of medical malpractice will be limited to $500,000 what they can collect for pain, suffering and lost body parts under legislation the state House passed into law over a veto by Gov. Beverly Perdue. The state House voted 74-42 Monday to limit what a blameless victim of a doctor’s negligence can collect for non-economic damages. Doctors would still have to pay medical bills, lost wages and other kinds of monetary losses resulting from their negligence, but other payouts for catastrophic injury or death would be capped. “The most severely injured patients are not protected by this bill. It discriminates against them, children, stay-at-home mothers and the elderly – people who in the tough, tough parlance of the courtroom have no economic value,” said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange. “I think it’s a shame and I think we should stop.” Republicans said the measure would hold down medical insurance costs and attract more doctors to North Carolina. “This cap is reasonable. This cap is tested and proven” since more than half the states similarly limit malpractice awards, said Rep. Johnathan Rhyne, R-Lincoln. The medical malpractice cap was the third Perdue veto overridden on Monday. The House earlier overcame vetoes on bills that limited the kinds of regulations state agencies can issue and established new rules for Medicaid providers. The House votes mean the bills become law over Perdue’s objections. All three had previously passed the Senate. Perdue said she largely agreed with both regulatory bills but was forced to reject them on constitutional grounds because each gave final decision-making authority in disputes involving state agencies to administrative law judges, who hear appeals on such matters as denials of Medicaid coverage or environmental permits. “These two bills clearly violate state constitution or federal law; that’s why I vetoed them,” Perdue said in a statement. “Today’s actions will only lead to unnecessary lawsuits and wasted opportunities.” The state House voted 76-42 to give the judges more authority to resolve disagreements between citizens and state agencies involving government rules and regulation. The House also voted 74-41 to override a Perdue veto on Medicaid-provider rules. Perdue fought the regulation and rules revamp legislation because she contended it was unconstitutional to end the ability of executive agencies and commissions to reject or modify the rulings of administrative law judges, who hear appeals on matters such as Medicaid coverage denials or environmental permits. Environmental groups fear the legislation will discourage regulations that preserve clean air and water. “Starting now, safeguarding our health and natural resources will be much, much more difficult,” said Sam Pearsall, a senior scientist at Environmental Defense Fund. Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said while no one likes regulations, they’re necessary for an orderly society. Traffic cops who enforce rules of the road are necessary so that everyone is safe, he said. Republicans had come to control the General Assembly this year for the first time in more than a century and soon launched “a legislative jihad” against regulation, Glazier said. Republicans countered that reducing state regulations would make North Carolina more business friendly. Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, said companies had complained to her not that state regulations were unfair, but the process of complying was too often confusing and repetitious. Companies complained of “vague rules, multiple entities who put them through the same hoops to get to the same end,” she said. “We need to help them rather than hinder them from doing business.” The other bill establishes criminal background checks and other requirements required by federal law for Medicaid providers who want to enroll in the program. New applicants must attend training that describes Medicaid billing and fraud. The state health agency will be allowed to suspend payments to providers who owe an overpayment refund or fine. The measure previously passed the House 115-0 and the Senate voted 47-1 to override Perdue’s veto earlier this month. “The governor’s veto would have held up much-needed legislation that ensures we have the procedures in place to reduce Medicaid fraud and abuse,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.