The ‘eyeball wars’ may continue as controversial bill appears dead

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A controversial bill that would add restrictions on medical-malpractice lawsuits and give new drug-prescribing powers to optometrists appears dead, Senate leaders said late Thursday, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The bill (SB 1316) did not get heard during a marathon Senate session Thursday. Procedurally, two-thirds of the Senate would need to agree to bring it up for a vote Friday on the last day of the legislative session — which probably will not happen because the bill faces significant opposition.

“It’s not likely,” said Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who has co-sponsored the bill.

Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, said she also did not think the bill could get support from two-thirds of the Senate. Both the medical-malpractice restrictions and the expanded prescribing powers for optometrists have drawn opposition.

“You’ve got too much going on in that bill,” Rich said.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who sponsored the proposed medical-malpractice restrictions in the House, said he thinks supporters made progress this year and likely will bring the ideas back in 2013.

“We generated tremendous momentum, and I’m optimistic we can get these two significant priorities passed in the future,” Gaetz said.

The medical-malpractice and optometric proposals, which are part of a broader health-care bill, stem from a compromise between the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Optometric Association. The groups have long fought about whether optometrists should be able to prescribe oral medications, with medical doctors saying the eye specialists do not have adequate training.

In the compromise, the FMA agreed to allow optometrists to prescribe 14 types of oral medications, along with “topical” medications that they can already provide. In exchange, the FMA would get additional malpractice lawsuit protections that it has made a priority.

The hope was that tying the issues together would attract enough support — or blunt enough opposition — to get the measure passed. But the bill faced objections from trial lawyers and ophthalmologists, who objected to more prescribing powers for optometrists.

Also, lawmakers said some House leaders had concerns about the optometrist proposal, which was never added to Gaetz’s bill. Meanwhile, the medical-malpractice restrictions faced opposition from a combination of Senate Democrats and Republicans.

The proposed restrictions, for example, would make it harder to prove that doctors are negligent for not performing supplemental diagnostic tests on patients. Doctors contend that fear of lawsuits causes them to do unnecessary tests and practice “defensive medicine,” which drives up health-care costs.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.