Archives: January 2012

Malpractice reform on front burner in 2012

Advocates for Westchester County’s medical practitioners and businesses burdened by health care costs said they’ll make medical malpractice liability a key target of their lobbying and reform efforts in 2012. “Medical liability reform will always be a major priority of the county and the state medical society,” said Brian O. Foy, executive director of the Westchester County Medical Society. On the Westchester County Association’s Blue Ribbon Task Force for Healthcare Reform, “We’re certainly going to look at malpractice reform,” said Amy Allen, WCA managing director for advocacy and international business. She said the task force is waiting to see bills introduced in the 2012 legislative session in Albany that it can support to address the issue. New York physicians in 2011 came close to seeing progress in curbing malpractice awards that have resulted in exorbitant and onerous liability insurance premiums for their profession. Gov. Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team proposed to cap awards for non-economic damages in malpractice cases at $250,000. That would have resulted in an estimated 24 percent decrease in malpractice insurance premiums for physicians and hospitals statewide. The state’s financially struggling hospitals would have saved an estimated $384 million. “We believe that cap is the Holy Grail in…

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Emergency room sovereign immunity bill filed

Doctors working in emergency rooms would be protected by sovereign immunity from large medical malpractice judgments under a measure filed Thursday in the Senate. The measure, filed by Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine), notes that emergency room doctors must treat those who show up in the ER, and because they can’t turn away patients their malpractice insurance is expensive. By making them agents of the state they’d be immune from having to pay more than $200,000 in a malpractice claim. Victims of malpractice who are awarded more than that would have to seek compensation from the Legislature. Doctors and trial attorneys have battled for years over the rules for suing for medical malpractice, with doctors saying they are targets for jackpot lawsuits and lawyers saying they are concerned about closing off access to compensation for those injured by carelessness. The bill (SB 1506) would be another episode in that battle, with further provisions that attempt to make it harder to win medical malpractice awards. One provision shifts the proof standard in the cases, saying that the claimant would have to prove by “clear and convincing evidence that the alleged actions of the health care provider represent a breach of the…

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Doctors still face harsh medical liability realities

When looking at the medical liability landscape, doctors will see some recent victories fending off tort reform challenges. California’s $250,000 noneconomic damages cap — long considered the gold standard among state tort reforms — was upheld by an appellate court in September 2011. West Virginia’s cap of the same amount was declared constitutional by the state’s high court in June 2011. Such reforms enacted or upheld in these and other states are credited with positive results. Doctors who otherwise would have fled to a better liability climate have stayed put. Liability premiums in tort reform states are typically lowered or at least stabilized. But those strides must be viewed alongside setbacks. In 2010, the Georgia Supreme Court found that state’s $350,000 cap unconstitutional, and the Illinois Supreme Court did the same with the Illinois cap of $500,000. Legal challenges are being waged in Missouri, Indiana and elsewhere. Two recent reports from the American Medical Association provide an even broader reality check on the scale of the challenge that physicians still face. The first study, issued in November 2011, found that the average expense to defend against a medical liability claim in 2010 was $47,158. That’s a 63% increase from 2001….

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Medical liability defense costs skyrocket

The average cost of defending a physician against a medical liability claim rose 63% to more than $47,000 from 2001 to 2010, according to a December report from the American Medical Association. That rise came despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of all claims against physicians were dropped, withdrawn or dismissed. The average medical liability indemnity payment in 2010 was $331,947, an 11.5% increase since 2001, said the report, based on aggregated insurance information. Meanwhile, medical liability premiums continue to hit physicians’ wallets. About 5% of premiums rose by more than 10% in 2010, according to a separate AMA report that draws on Medical Liability Monitor data.

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January 2012 Newsletter

Medical Liability Strides, and Setbacks An important editorial in this month’s American Medical News details the recent success medical liability reforms have had at the state level, but shows just how much more work must be done to reform a broken system that does not serve the needs of patients. In 2011, medical liability reforms and reasonable limits on non-economic damages were upheld by courts in West Virginia and California, ensuring access to quality and affordable medical care. But unfortunately, courts in Georgia and Illinois struck down similar laws last year, and legal battles are continuing in Missouri and Indiana. Further increasing health care costs are the expenses physicians face in defending liability claims, which according to a recent AMA study have increased by 63 percent since 2001 to over $47,000. While two-thirds of claims were dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn without any payments to the plaintiff, physicians still paid an average of $26,851 to defend them. And inaction on fixing our broken medical liability system has taken a much more serious toll on our health care providers. Higher rates of burnout and depression among surgeons are causing shortages of our most critical specialty physicians. “Indeed, it is the states where…

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