During his 2010 campaign for governor, Rick Scott made a two-part promise that related to doctors.
Scott said he "supports extending sovereign immunity to physicians acting on behalf of the Department of Health, as already provided to those acting as agents of the Department of Corrections, and providing some measure of indemnification to those physicians who primarily treat Medicare and Medicaid patients."
At the end of Scott's first year in office in 2011, we gave him an "In the Works," based on his signing of a bill relating to the second part of the promise. The bill placed a cap on damages in cases filed by Medicaid recipients. That wasn't the same as "indemnification" -- see a more detailed analysis about this in our previous update -- but it was good enough to meet Scott's broader goal of limiting doctors' exposure in exchange for treating Medicaid recipients.
However, in late 2011 we found no evidence that sovereign immunity had been extended to physicians acting on behalf of the state Department of Health.
Now, as Scott's third year in office nears its end, we are checking again on his progress.
First, some background. According to a Florida house analysis, "sovereign immunity bars lawsuits against the state or political subdivisions for the torts of officers or employees unless the immunity is expressly waived. Instead of holding the employee or agent liable, the state defends the claim."
Florida statute 766.1115, enacted in 1992, extended sovereign immunity to health care providers who volunteer on behalf of the state to treat the poor. There are about 13,000 licensed, contracted volunteer providers in the state. (The department also directly employs 381 licensed medical doctors, who were already covered by a law passed in the 1970s that extend sovereign immunity to state employees.)
Scott has worked to extend sovereign immunity to additional doctors who do work on behalf of the Department of Health:
• In 2013, Scott signed HB 1093, which tweaked that law to diminish the state's control as it relates to patient eligibility, referral and care determinations. That move shored up sovereign immunity for those volunteers.
• In 2011, Scott signed SB1676 which extended sovereign immunity to university doctors at teaching hospitals.
So Scott has signed legislation to address the first part of the promise, and has signed legislation that caps damages -- but falls short of providing "indemnification" -- on the second part of the promise. We rate this a Compromise.