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GOP trial-bar ally hits award-cap plan

Sen. John DeFrancisco

Sen. John DeFrancisco (Credit: Handout)

Sen. John DeFrancisco, considered the strongest Republican ally of trial attorneys in Albany, said Tuesday he opposes the medical malpractice award caps contained in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to contain Medicaid costs, calling the savings estimates “fake.”

DeFrancisco’s opposition shows Cuomo’s Medicaid plan will face opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate and not only the Democratic Assembly, where trial lawyers interests hold more sway and some Democrats have called limiting malpractice damages a “non-starter.”

DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) told Newsday Tuesday that the Cuomo administration and the hospital industry “pulled out of the air” the $208.5 million in state savings from capping malpractice awards for pain and suffering at $250,000 and creating a fund to pay for babies injured at birth.

“I just think it’s to help one group [hospitals] who used a process I think unfairly to get what benefits that one group and wasn’t a comprehensive approach with all parties involved trying to come up with a real solution,” DeFrancisco said. “I would love to see the methodology where they came up with the magic to determine that number.”

The malpractice caps and baby fund proposals were among 79 ideas forwarded last week to Cuomo by a Medicaid reform panel, which came up with nearly $1.7 billion in Medicaid savings. Sitting on the panel were hospitals and other industry groups, consumer advocates and legislators, but DeFrancisco noted lawyers were left out.

New York City’s hospitals and unions have come out for Cuomo’s Medicaid plan and are credited with authoring the malpractice proposal, which they say would save them $704 million a year. That could help them find $640 million in Medicaid savings the Cuomo’s budget assumes the health industry will make on its own.

On Tuesday, Cuomo e-mailed supporters, urging them to call and write their legislators advocating for the Medicaid reductions. At the same time, the New York State Bar Association has started its own letter-writing campaign against the plan.

According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, trial attorneys are the top campaign donor to DeFrancisco’s sizable campaign chest, giving him nearly $40,000 since 1999. He is of counsel at DeFrancisco & Falgitano Law Firm in Syracuse, according to his Senate bio.

In a narrowly divided Senate, DeFrancisco’s vote could matter. On Monday, Newsday asked the four senators making up the Independent Democratic Caucus -- who have sided with Republicans on some issues -- where they stood on malpractice caps, but their leader, Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), said they were still studying the issue.

DeFrancisco said he preferred former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s approach on medical malpractice. Spitzer named a team with lawyers, doctors and health care lobbyists to study the issue and propose legislation, but he resigned in a prostitution scandal before any action could be taken.

By contrast, Cuomo is putting the measure in a budget bill. Lawmakers could try to cut it but that would blow a $200 million hole in the budget. Further, if the budget is not passed by the April 1 deadline, Cuomo could include the malpractice measure in an extender bill, which lawmakers would have to approve or risk a government shutdown.

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