NU Online News Service, Dec. 21, 2:41 p.m.EST

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WASHINGTON–A trade group representing medical liabilityinsurers is voicing concern over a provision in the Senatehealthcare reform bill that would encourage states to create tortreform programs, but allows participants to "opt-out" of any newprocess the state's establish at any time.

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"Allowing claimants to opt-out of the new processes at any timeis a serious concern," said Lawrence E. Smarr, president of thePhysician Insurers Association of America. "We are okay with anop-out provision as long as there is a point where both partiescommit to the process."

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"As currently worded, the provision would gut any tort reformthe bill encourages states to implement," Mr. Smarr said. "We arehopeful that it can be reworded during the conference process," hesaid.

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The provision, contained in an amendment unveiled Saturday bySen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Majority Leader, encourages statesto develop, implement, and then evaluate "alternatives to currenttort litigation for resolving disputes over injuries allegedlycaused by health care providers or health care organizations."

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The bill provides $50 million in grants to the states annuallyover the next 5 years starting in 2011 to accomplish this goal.

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States would have to apply to the Department of Health and HumanServices for the funds.

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Most of the provision is similar to that proposed in the Houselegislation, according to Mr. Smarr. But, the opt-out provision isa major concern, he said.

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At the same time, he said he is "pleased" that the Senate billdoes not contain language repealing the antitrust exemptioncurrently accorded to health and medical malpractice insurers underthe McCarran-Ferguson Act.

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But, he cautioned, the provision remains in the House bill, andwill be subject to negotiation in conference to reconcile the Houseand Senate's versions.

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