Monday, January 13, 2014

HB 39: Donate Four Hours. Kill a Patient. Walk.

Virginia House Bill #39 seems to have been written with the intention of encouraging doctors and dentists to donate a reasonable amount of free service to poor people, thus mitigating the harm done by Obamacare. This web site officially salutes Delegates Hope's and Marshall's good intentions.

However, the way it's written...

http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?141+ful+HB39

...it looks to me as if what this bill would actually do is encourage all sorts of incompetence. We're not just talking about the kind of dental work I got at one of those "free clinics," years ago, when an admittedly frazzled dentist removed a loose filling, enlarged the cavity to replace the filling, and then failed to replace the filling before sending me home. Nor are we talking about the fact that this dentist's fellow "volunteers" had given me a double dose of Lidocaine, which I don't tolerate well, and sent me home without any attempt to find out whether I was likely to kill anybody by passing out while trying to drive myself home (I didn't try to drive myself home, and I did pass out). Those things are alarming enough, but HB 39 actually specifies that "volunteer health care providers," not only while volunteering but while working for paying customers, "shall be exempt from civil liability for any injury or wrongful death...absent gross negligence or willful misconduct."

Unless the definition of "gross negligence" has been expanded to include mere gross-outs like what that volunteer dentist did for me, this is a very bad bill.

We do need more health care providers working free of charge for poor people, and we do need more legal provisions to encourage them, but exemption from liability for killing patients outright is not the kind of encouragement I want them given. I'm thinking more about making competent volunteer work a requirement to maintain certification, or to attain a higher tier of certification than doctors and dentists who don't work as volunteers or for sliding-scale fees.