Fallin Gets Health-Sector Lift ; the Medical Community Is a Prime Contributor to Her Campaigns of 2010 and 2014

Article excerpt

Doctors, dentists and others who would benefit from tort reform legislation to be considered in an upcoming special session have poured more than $700,000 into Gov. Mary Fallin's campaign coffers, a Tulsa World analysis shows.

The contributions from the health industry accounted for one out of every seven dollars given to Fallin's campaigns for governor, a World analysis of Ethics Commission data reflects. The individuals, businesses and political action committees from the health sector have contributed about $741,000 to Fallin's 2010 and 2014 candidate committees.

The majority of contributions came from individual doctors and other medical professionals while PACs and businesses contributed $92,000.

Medical providers are a chief segment of those who stand to benefit from any tort reform legislation that will be under consideration when the Legislature meets in special session. The session is to begin Sept. 3 and will cost taxpayers about $30,000 a day.

In two rulings in June, the state Supreme Court struck down the package of laws passed in 2009, saying they were unconstitutional because the bill contained more than one subject. The court also said one of the laws created a financial burden limiting access to the courts and applied to only one class or group.

Earlier this month, Fallin called a special session to restore the laws, saying lawmakers could not wait until the regular legislative session begins in February. Fallin said other issues, including the fate of a state health insurance program for the poor, would not be considered.

"Oklahoma's lawsuit reform measures are part of what makes this state attractive to businesses and allows us to retain and recruit doctors. ... As lawmakers, we need to act now to protect our businesses and our medical community from frivolous lawsuits and skyrocketing legal costs," Fallin said in news release announcing the special session.

In an email, Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz, said the donations play no role in Fallin's policy decisions. "Campaign contributions do not drive or influence public policy in this administration, period. However, it makes perfect sense for doctors and businesses that are concerned about lawsuit reform to contribute to Governor Fallin's campaign, as she has been outspoken about where she stands on this issue."

The overturned tort reform laws contained protections for drug companies, hospitals, doctors, dentists, nursing home owners and other medical providers. They included limits on what evidence can be used in suits against health providers, exemptions from some kinds of suits and outside review of legal fees in class action suits.

At least a dozen negligence lawsuits have been reopened that were thrown out by judges due to a requirement in the 2009 laws. The law required plaintiffs to obtain an affidavit from a qualified expert stating the suit had merit or cause before filing suit.

Attorneys who specialize in such lawsuits say the requirement isn't necessary and forces them to prove their case before it's even heard.

Donald Smolen II, a Tulsa attorney who filed three of the reopened suits, said negligence suits cost between $50,000 and $100,000 up front, generally paid by the law firm filing the suit. Attorneys aren't likely to pursue cases without merit because they lose any money spent pursuing the case, he said.

Smolen said the certificate requirement "is nothing more than a way to slow down the process. …