Archives: July 2017

July 2017 Newsletter

  Ailing liability system not fair to deserving patients Even as the prospects for larger efforts to reform our nation’s health care system remain uncertain, there’s hope that medical liability reform could make incremental progress on reducing costs and restoring fairness to deserving patients. An editorial this month highlights the progress made by the House of Representatives in passing the Protecting Access to Care Act in order to align a patchwork of state liability laws and ensure full compensation of medical bills and lost wages to patients who are the victims of medical negligence. Unfortunately, personal injury attorneys continue to stand in the way of full passage of medical liability reform by the Senate. According to the editorial, “fairness is elusive,” particularly to patients, who are subject to a system that adds billions of dollars in health care spending each year, lost to defensive medicine and sky-high premiums that reduce access to care. With the ball now in the court of the Senate, “lawmakers who say they’re committed to addressing ‘affordable’ health care need to stop dancing around malpractice tort reform and address what’s grown into a significant, if not inordinate, cost driver,” the editorial concludes. To read more about…

Read More

A doctor’s place is in the exam room

An orthopedic surgeon and a neurosurgeon walk into a room … Unfortunately, this is not the start of a joke. While we would prefer to be sharing best practices and treating patients in our exam rooms, the fact is we’re spending more time than we’d like in a courtroom. Because our medical liability system is broken, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, OB-GYNs and other specialty physicians continue to find themselves on the receiving end of meritless lawsuits. As a pediatric orthopedic surgeon practicing for more than 40 years in Iowa City, I’ve seen countless colleagues forced to defend their treatment decisions and reputations — leaving less time for patients — only for the lawsuits to be dropped, dismissed or withdrawn for lack of merit. Our medical liability system costs too much, takes too long, undermines the doctor-patient relationship and does not serve the needs of patients or physicians. Too often, the cost of defensive medicine — the tests and procedures above and beyond what is medically necessary to limit exposure to litigation — is tacked on to health care bills, leading to steep increases in costs year after year. When applied to 2015 health care spending, defensive medicine adds anywhere from $160…

Read More

Commentary: Florida Supreme Court crowns itself fact-finder and policymaker on malpractice

On June 8, in North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that caps on noneconomic damages (pain and suffering) in medical malpractice lawsuits violated the equal protection clause. Mostly, the court said that the caps did not pass the “rational basis test,” where a challenged law must be rationally related to a legitimate government interest. By deciding the Legislature had no rational basis for imposing the caps, the court crowned itself fact-finder and policymaker, rejecting all of the Legislature’s work and its role under our system of government. Under the rational basis test, the court is supposed to defer to the Legislature if there is any “rational basis” in the record. Here, the court found there was no conceivable rational basis for the Legislature’s action. Let’s take a look at the record. In 2002, the Governor’s Select Task Force on Healthcare Professional Liability Insurance spent months traveling around the state, listening to all interested parties, gathering relevant data, and analyzing trends. What they observed and documented was alarming: In 2002, the average liability premium per doctor in Florida was 55 percent higher than the national average. For the period from 1996 to 2002, average insurance premiums in Florida…

Read More

Medical malpractice tort reform: A remedy for ‘fairness’

While repeal-and-replace health care legislation sputters and stalls in the U.S. Senate, the House has advanced a medical tort-reform bill that could, by one estimate, save taxpayers at least $50 billion over 10 years. The Protecting Access to Care Act passed by a precariously slim margin. It now faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The legislation caps the gray area of medical malpractice lawsuits — noneconomic damages — at $250,000. Injured parties would still receive full compensation for measurable, economic harm, such as medical expenses and lost wages. Of course, the legal lobby is not going to sit still for legislation that limits these lawsuits. Democrat sympathizers already are bemoaning the injustice to mothers and children, who may not necessarily face economic losses such as lost wages. But “fairness” is elusive when punitive damages are, at best, speculative and subjective — if not inconsistent. Back in 2008, a comprehensive study by the Harvard School of Public Health found medical liability costs totaled $56 billion (or 2.4 percent) of all U.S. health care spending, according to The Heritage Foundation. Other studies show medical liability costs may account for up to 10 percent of all U.S. health care expenditures, Heritage reports….

Read More

Wisconsin’s cap on medical malpractice awards unconstitutional, courts rules

Ruling that Wisconsin’s $750,000 cap on medical malpractice claims is unconstitutional, an appellate court said Wednesday that a Milwaukee woman who lost all four limbs should collect the $16.5 million for pain and suffering awarded to her and her husband. “We conclude that the statutory cap on non-economic damages is unconstitutional on its face,” Judge Joan Kessler wrote in the 19-page unanimous opinion by the three-judge First District Court of Appeals panel. Kessler added that “Wisconsin’s cap on non-economic medical malpractice damagesalways reduces non-economic damages only for the class of the most severely injured victims who have been awarded damages exceeding the cap, yet always allows full damages to the less severely injured malpractice victims.” The appeal involves the $25.3 million award given in 2014 to Ascaris Mayo, a 57-year-old mother of four who had her limbs amputated in 2011 after a Strep A infection — the kind that causes strep throat — went undetected, leading to septic shock. The damage caused by the infection led to the amputations.  Wisconsin law caps non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases at $750,000 but does not put a ceiling on the amount that could be awarded for economic damages, such as medical costs, which in Mayo’s case was awarded at $8.8…

Read More