LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — State healthcare laws that may have major impacts on both doctors and patients are now in effect as of October 1.

One of the laws is Assembly Bill 404, which passed earlier this year despite controversy. The new law increases the cap in damages payable in a medical malpractice case from $350,000 to $2.5 million.

“It very much impacts doctors like me who own our businesses because if our insurance, malpractice insurance, rates go up, then that’s more overhead for us to have to deal with,” said Henderson-based general surgeon Dr. Siri Sastri.

Doctors like Dr. Sastri are concerned this new law will drive doctors out of the state and increase patient wait times.

According to the Nevada Hospital Association, our state needs 1,500 more doctors on the books to meet the national average. Currently, Nevada ranks 45th in the nation for active physicians, according to NHA.

“We feel, as doctors, we’re not being supported,” Dr. Sastri said. “Right now, I do a lot of low-income patients, patients who don’t have insurance and do cash pay only. If I had medical malpractice insurance rates, then that would affect my ability to take care of those people.”

But medical malpractice attorney and former Assemblyman Justin Watkins said the bill financially enhances justice for patients who have endured harm from medical negligence.

“It was a compromise bill between the Trial Lawyers Association, the hospital association, and the doctors’ organization,” Watkins said. “People who have been injured as a result of medical negligence or people who have died as a result of medical negligence, their heirs are much more likely to have access to counsel and their damages for adequately compensated.”

In the early 2000s, medical malpractice premiums began to increase significantly. This caused 30 OB-GYNS to leave Clark County and other specialty physicians to leave, as well.

Dr. Sastri is concerned that a similar scenario may unfold with this new law.

“I’ve seen a lot of people sell their practices and leave to go to other states to practice,” Dr. Sastri said. “If we have fewer doctors, we’re not going to be able to have as much availability.”

But Watkins said what happened then was because of an insurance carrier pulling out of the state, not from the increase in premiums.

“The bill and what has happened here should not have any of those effects because almost every single doctor is required by any medical facility or hospital to carry at least $1 million in malpractice insurance coverage,” Watkins said.

Biomarker testing law

Another healthcare law now in effect is Assembly Bill 155, which requires insurance policies to cover biomarker testing for cancer patients.

“Biomarker testing is samples that we check on patients who generally have cancers that look at specific mutations in the cancer cells,” said Dr. Stephani Christensen, an oncologist at Comprehensive Cancer Centers. “Very often, that allows us to target those cancers with specific treatments.”

This type of cancer testing has been around for about a decade, according to Dr. Christensen. She said it’s been revolutionizing how doctors treat specific cancers.

Jennifer Johnson, a Las Vegas resident and volunteer with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, and said the testing has saved her life.

“Last July, I was having a bad cough that wouldn’t go away,” said Johnson. “Finally, we went to the ER and, after being told many times that it was bronchitis, and I had a CT scan. I unfortunately found that I had a mass in my right lung. We opted to have testing done, and it came back that I’m ALK-positive, which is only about 4 percent of the lung cancers that are out there, but there is a targeted treatment available for that mutation.”

Johnson said it’s been a battle with her insurance provider to get the testing covered. That’s why she’s glad this new law protects her.

“My insurance company has been denying my claim,” Johnson said. “We’ve appealed twice now, and they keep coming back and saying that it isn’t medically necessary, which has been frustrating because it’s not a cheap bill. I think if it’s affecting me, I know it’s affecting a lot of people.”

Healthcare advocates like Randy Johnson, the government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network for Nevada and Idaho, said while this past legislative session made progress, it fell short of their goals.

“When we started this process, the legislation was really in line of what we were hoping to do,” said Johnson. “But at the end, it was significantly narrowed. We wanted what we call ‘disease agnostic.’ I really want to be able to tell anybody who needs a biomarker testing to get access to that care.”



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