Archives: October 2012

Republicans press HHS on malpractice reform

Three Republican Senators concerned about how grants for medical liability reform demonstration projects were spent continue to press the Department of Health and Human Services for answers – only to receive less than adequate responses. Senators Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, originally wrote to Secretary Sebelius back in April of 2012 regarding how a $23.2 million grant intended to improve the medical liability system by protecting patients and access to care, was spent. The letter focused on lawmakers’ concerns that the grant money was not being used for “traditional” medical liability reforms when President Obama “gave the clear impression” that funding would be used for that purpose in a 2009 speech. When the Senators received a response nearly six months later, their questions went unanswered. So this month, they sent a second inquiry. “We were concerned that these developments did not fulfill the president’s commitment to move forward on medical malpractice reform,” the lawmakers said in their most recent letter, dated October 16. While “traditional” medical liability reforms are aimed at decreasing “the incidence of frivolous lawsuits, inflated awards and inflated attorneys’ fees,” the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s description of the…

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Liability premium relief good for doctors, unsettling for insurers

Small but persistent declines in medical liability insurance premiums have many insurers concerned about the future of their industry. Yet doctors are benefiting from lower rates and rising competition among insurers vying for their business. Nearly 60% of premiums nationwide held steady in 2012, and about 26% decreased, according to the Medical Liability Monitor Annual Rate Survey. Only 15% of premiums increased. Overall, rates fell 1.7% in 2012. In the previous two years, they dipped 0.5% and 0.2%, respectively, the October report said. The result is a continuing “softening” of the medical liability insurance market in the last several years, characterized by declining rates and low returns on investment for insurers. Medical Liability Monitor Editor Mike Matray was surprised to see the decline continue. MLM’s 2011 report noted that the market has been soft twice as long as previous soft markets. “No one really knows how much longer this trend will continue,” he said. For now, insurers are seeing strong financial performance despite the downward trend, but that can’t continue, Matray said. If rates keep falling as they have the last five years, the industry’s financial results eventually will become insupportable. “In the near term, this is certainly a good…

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Kansas Supreme Court upholds medical malpractice cap

The war on medical malpractice caps rages on. Although several state Supreme Courts have recently struck down malpractice laws aiming to limit awards for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, the Kansas Supreme Court has just ruled that the law is constitutional and can stand. The case at hand involved a 28-year-old patient that had surgery to remove an ovary. The surgeon mistakenly removed the wrong ovary, forcing the patient to then undergo a second surgery with a different surgeon to remove the diseased ovary. The original surgeon was found at fault during trial, and the patient was awarded a total of $759,679 in damages, including $575,000 for current and future noneconomic losses, plus $100,000 for future medical bills. The trial judge then reduced the award to $334,679, citing a state law that caps non-economic damages at $250,000. In its decision, the Kansas Supreme Court held that the limit at which noneconomic awards are capped is still adequate despite the fact that the sum of money is not worth as much as it was in 1988, when the law was first enacted. The Court held in its opinion that although the cap does restrict the common law right to…

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Third parties can’t sue doctors when injured by patients, says state high court

Physician advocates are praising a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling they say protects doctors from being sued unfairly by third parties who are injured by patients. In a Sept. 17 decision, judges said physicians owe no duty to nonpatients who are harmed because of a patient’s medical condition. The ruling contrasts with state Supreme Court opinions in similar cases. The Connecticut ruling prevents doctors’ obligations from being expanded to third parties, said Layne Gakos, general counsel for the Connecticut State Medical Society. The society was not involved in the case. “It’s a very important ruling,” Gakos said. “If this case had gone the other way, it would have had a detrimental effect on the physician-patient relationship. It essentially would have imposed [a] duty on physicians to constantly be on the lookout for third [parties]. It would have changed the way physicians practice medicine.” The case stems from a June 2006 visit by Mary Ann Ambrogio to the Gastroenterology Center of Connecticut, PC, in Hamden. Ambrogio was diagnosed and treated by gastroenterologist Frank Troncale, MD, for liver and kidney ailments, including hepatic encephalopathy, according to court documents. As she was leaving Dr. Troncale’s office, Ambrogio passed out in her vehicle and struck…

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October 2012 Newsletter

Protect Patients Now Volume 7, Issue 10 October 2012 Newsletter E-Newsletter Special points of interest: Election 2012: HCLA Supports Friends of Liability Reform Desperately Seeking Solutions – for Patients Small Reductions in Liability Premiums a Welcome Treat, but Physicians and Patients Remain Spooked Liability News in Brief Election 2012: HCLA Supports Friends of Liability Reform   Medical liability reform legislation saw the light of day in the House of Representatives this year, but has yet to move forward for consideration by the Senate. That’s why it is critical that candidates who support medical liability reform are elected to both houses of Congress so that we can pass a bill that lowers health care costs, increases access to quality medical care, and helps with deficit reduction efforts. This year, the HCLA has supported candidates from both parties that have been friends of mpedical liability reform and will champion this issue in Washington. The HCLA is running radio ads in support of Congressman Jim Matheson (D-UT), Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), and Senate candidates Rick Berg (R-ND) and Denny Rehberg (R-MT). “Heller also supports reforming our broken medical liability system that is driving up health care costs for patients, forcing good doctors out of medicine,…

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