By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill supported by many in the medical community that would no longer require doctors to give patients as much information about available alternative treatments.
The Assembly also passed a measure that would slow asbestos-exposure lawsuits until plaintiffs reveal how many businesses their attorneys plan to go after.
Both measures were opposed by Democrats, who don’t have the votes to stop anything Republicans want to pass. The bills now head to the Senate, also controlled by Republicans. If passed by the Senate, they would then go to Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration.
Democrats objected to the asbestos bill, saying it would unduly affect veterans who have been exposed to high levels of asbestos during their service. No veterans groups were registered as lobbying against the bill, although the American Legion raised concerns about how it would affect lawsuits brought by veterans. Democrats also relayed individual stories of ailing veterans during the debate.
Renee Simpson, the senior vice-commander of the VFW Department of Wisconsin, was introduced in the Assembly gallery. Democratic Rep. Gary Hebl, of Sun Prairie, read a letter Simpson wrote describing her father’s battle with mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lung lining caused by exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. She said in the letter that her father, 69-year-old veteran Dennis Simpson, contracted the cancer after being exposed to asbestos while serving in the Army.
Simpson’s plea against the bill did not sway Republicans, who said the goal of the proposal was to prevent lawyers from hiding multiple claims in hopes of maximizing awards. They said it would inject transparency into asbestos claims and help judges and jurors see how many defendants may be at fault for a person’s illnesses and ensure damages are awarded fairly.
Trial attorneys, who had objected to the measure, said it’s designed to slow cases down in the hopes plaintiffs will die and protect corporations from making payouts.
The bill passed on a party line 58-39 vote.
The other measure was in reaction to a 2012 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that said a doctor’s “informed consent” duty includes telling a patient about medical tests and treatments that may be appropriate for a patient’s symptoms, even if the doctor doesn’t believe the patient has the underlying condition or disease.
The bill would change the law from a “reasonable patient standard” to a “reasonable physician standard.”
That means doctors would only have to inform patients about treatment options a reasonable doctor would know or disclose under the circumstances. Doctors would not be required to disclose information about alternate modes of treatment for conditions they do not believe the patient has at the time.
The bill was supported by numerous medical groups including the Wisconsin Hospitals Association, the Wisconsin Medical Society and Dean Health System. They say it could stop doctors from ordering up unnecessary tests and procedures to avoid being sued.
But Democrats argued current law protects patient rights.
It passed 65-31, with eight Democrats and all Republicans voting for it except Rep. Steve Nass, of Whitewater, who voted no.