Category Archives: National

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decisions and reputations — leaving less time for patients — only for the lawsuits to be dropped, dismissed or withdrawn for lack of merit.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…

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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…

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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….

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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…

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June 2017 Newsletter

  Patient access to care scores a win in Washington The passage of comprehensive medical liability reform legislation this week in Washington gives patients and physicians a win on access to affordable care. H.R. 1215, the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017, passed the House by a vote of 218 to 210, and enacts reasonable limits on non-economic damages while modeling the common-sense reforms of states like Texas and California. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the comprehensive medical liability reforms included in H.R. 1215 would lead to cost savings of $44 billion over the 2017-2026 period for federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and reduce the national deficit by almost $50 billion over the same 10-year period. The Protect Patients Now grassroots network was activated over the past month and was instrumental in gathering support for the bill. Nearly 650 emails were sent to members of Congress, with many others taking to Facebook and Twitter to advocate for support of medical liability reform. “Our broken medical liability system is one step closer to more efficiently and equitably compensating deserving patients and reducing the medical lawsuit abuse that undermines the physician-patient relationship,” said HCLA Chair Mike…

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May 2017 Newsletter

  Liability reform cited as major savings in President’s budget With an emphasis on deficit reduction, the President’s 2018 budget highlighted how medical liability reform can lead to improved fiscal health. Cited as resulting in major savings and reform, medical liability reform is noted in the President’s budget as necessary due to the fact that “the current medical liability system does not work for patients or providers, nor does it provide quality, evidence-based care,” budget language states. The liability reform proposal in the budget contains proven state reforms that have lowered costs and increased access to care in states such as California, Texas, West Virginia, and Ohio. This allows for deficit reductions of $55 billion over 10 years upon passage of a bill that contains reasonable limits on non-economic damages of $250,000 (increasing with inflation), a three-year statute of limitations, and modifications on attorney’s fees to ensure deserving patients – not personal injury lawyers – benefit from liability judgments and settlements. To review the medical liability reform proposal contained within the President’s budget, click here. Panel discussion yields insights into future of liability reform Taking part in a legal panel on the future of medical liability reform, HCLA chair Mike…

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Panel Discussion Yields Insights into Future of Liability Reform

Taking part in a legal panel on the future of medical liability reform, HCLA chair Mike Stinson joined with legal experts and those supporting the interests of consumers to give insight on how efforts to change the currently broken system will evolve. Hosted by George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School and the school’s Law & Economics Center, the panel represented varying legal, industry, and patient interests. Speaking on behalf of PIAA and their government relations efforts, Stinson talked about the benefit of liability reforms to deserving patients and federal health care spending. “The proposals [under consideration] have been scored as providing significant federal savings if enacted by Congress,” Stinson commented. “Our interest is that we get a more uniform system of medical justice across the United States.” Pushing back on assertions by other panel members that federal liability reform is unnecessary or unconstitutional, Stinson stated that “the system needs to be corrected – it’s incredibly inefficient. When two-thirds of all claims are dropped, withdrawn, or dismissed because they lack merit, but still cost tens of thousands of dollars each to defend against, you’ve got a system that’s not working correctly.” To watch the medical liability reform panel discussion in…

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Liability Reform Cited as Major Savings in President’s Budget

With an emphasis on deficit reduction, the President’s 2018 budget highlighted how medical liability reform can lead to improved fiscal health. Cited as resulting in major savings and reform, medical liability reform is noted in the President’s budget as necessary due to the fact that “the current medical liability system does not work for patients or providers, nor does it provide quality, evidence-based care,” budget language states. The liability reform proposal in the budget contains proven state reforms that have lowered costs and increased access to care in states such as California, Texas, West Virginia, and Ohio. This allows for deficit reductions of $55 billion over 10 years upon passage of a bill that contains reasonable limits on non-economic damages of $250,000 (increasing with inflation), a three-year statute of limitations, and modifications on attorney’s fees to ensure deserving patients – not personal injury lawyers – benefit from liability judgments and settlements. To review the medical liability reform proposal contained within the President’s budget, click here.

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April 2017 Newsletter

  Medical liability reform – an issue of Price With Tom Price at the helm of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Congress likely to make systematic health care changes, chances for medical liability reform are stronger than ever.  So say several experts in the field. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, noted medical liability system scholars Michelle M. Mello, J.D., Ph.D., Allen Kachalia, M.D., J.D., and David M. Studdert, LL.B., Sc.D convey their opinions on the opportunities that lie ahead for proponents of medical liability reform with Secretary Price as an advocate. Citing medical liability in his confirmation hearings, as “a really difficult challenge,” Secretary Price has long been a champion of reforms that reduce medical lawsuit abuse. Acknowledging that “the liability system has well-documented problems, and its reform was omitted from the Affordable Care Act,” the authors support a way forward in the near term. While the current liability system is no longer at the precipice of crisis, Mello, Kachalia, and Studdert agree that “a period of calm in liability insurance markets is the best time to proceed with sensible reform.” The deck is stacked in support of reasonable limits on non-economic damages, with…

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The Tort Bar’s Senate Undertaker

It’s good to be a Senator, especially if you are a Republican who is the most important opponent of tort reform on Capitol Hill. Witness the largesse that the plaintiffs bar is bestowing on South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham in its moment of maximum political peril. On Thursday Mr. Graham was feted in Houston at a fundraiser hosted by Mark Lanier, who can afford it. The Lanier Law Firm has vacuumed up some $13 billion in tort verdicts over the years from Vioxx to asbestos. The invitation asks Mr. Lanier’s tort comrades to share their wealth to the tune of $500 to $5,400 for “Team Graham.” “Our goal is to show Senator Graham an appreciation from both sides of the bar for what he can help do, especially with tort reform running rampant from the house,” Mr. Lanier added in an email. “It will take Senator Graham to help educate folks and lead the charge from the Republican side.” Mr. Graham has every right to take campaign cash from all comers, and in this case he is a true believer. He’s long fought tort reform, and his legal friends have rewarded him with some $3.7 million over his 24-year Senate career….

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