Category Archives: Newsletter

March 2020 Newsletter

In this time of uncertainty and rapidly changing developments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, we express our thanks and appreciation for those who continue to work at the front line of our health care systems. The HCLA and Protect Patients Now remain committed to keeping you updated on medical liability reform developments at the state and federal levels. Good Samaritan language added to economic stimulus bill Exemplifying the risk physicians face when working across state lines in a time of crisis is the current need for interstate health care resources to adequately respond to COVID-19 cases while ensuring medical liability coverage. As a result, the Health Coalition on Liability and Access, its member organizations, and congressional cosponsors of the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act (H.R. 6283/S. 1350) advocated for provisions of this legislation to be included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748) signed into law by President Trump on March 27. While the COVID-19 economic stimulus bill does not include the Good Samaritan language in full, it effectively applies the protections — for which the HCLA has long advocated — to volunteers serving existing or potential COVID-19 patients for the duration of this public health…

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February 2020 Newsletter

The year ahead for patients and physicians Advocating for physicians in over 60 active lawsuits, the Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies has a busy year ahead in support of access to care. Brian D. Vandenberg, senior vice president and general counsel at the American Medical Association (AMA), recently outlined the priorities for 2020 in an interview with American Medical News. On the docket for the AMA is the rise in hybrid medical liability lawsuits. Vandenberg explains, “Hybrid liability suits attempt to disregard medical malpractice liability caps by conflating distinct legal theories—an end-run around legislative tort reform.” Vandenberg highlights these attempts as “disingenuous” ways to overcome limits on noneconomic damages. “We’ll continue to advocate for meaningful tort reform, and will continue to challenge and file amicus briefs in abusive hybrid lawsuits.” He also emphasized the importance of protecting the patient-physician relationship and the continued ability for open and honest discussions about health care recommendations. When asked about what was at stake in several of their key legal priorities in 2020, Vandenberg answered, “Access and trust. It’s really that simple.” To read the full interview on how the Litigation Center is playing a role in support of ensuring…

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January 2020 Newsletter

Iowa mothers facing fewer options for labor and delivery A rising trend of Iowa maternity ward closures is having a domino effect on expectant mothers and access to prenatal care. With 12 maternity wards closing statewide between 2016 and 2018, the already rural state is leaving soon-to-be mothers with fewer options – further away. Once known as a state offering a reasonable medical liability climate, recent sky-high judgements have impacted the willingness of physicians and hospital systems to remain in practice. Between 2017 and 2019, Iowa juries awarded plaintiffs more than $63 million in non-economic damages, adding up to nearly three times the $21.4 million awarded in economic damages. Now, half of Iowa’s counties lack any maternity services at all. “This situation drives up health care costs for all Iowans as malpractice insurance premiums rise, while putting patients, doctors and hospitals at risk,” writes Dr. Marygrace Elson, an OBGYN practicing in Iowa City and president of the Iowa Medical Society, in a recent op-ed. Ranking last across all states in the number of OBGYNs per 10,000 women, medical liability reform is a must, Elson emphasizes. To read more about the need for the Iowa legislature to take action on liability…

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December 2019 Newsletter

Personal injury attorneys target definition of a patient With courts increasingly reviewing physician liability for patients they have never treated, the answer to what defines a patient could shape the future of access to care. The issue stems from a recent case in which a Minnesota physician was held liable for harm to a patient he had never examined, reviewed her records or spoke to directly. Under review was whether or not the physician still had a “legal duty of care” following a conversation with a Nurse Practitioner, in which he recommended that the patient not be admitted to the hospital-based on a series of symptoms. The AMA’s Litigation Center, in an amicus brief, argued that the duty of care was premised on a patient-physician relationship, which was not present in this case. While lower courts agreed, highlighting the importance of informal consultations among health care professionals, the Minnesota State Supreme Court overruled these verdicts. A moot court review of the case at the 2019 AMA Interim Meeting saw audience members raise concerns about a number of issues arising from the decision, including “the chilling effect of the decision, decision-making authority of NPs and physician assistants, legal ethics and medical…

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November 2019 Newsletter

Iowa’s liability climate is changing – for worse The Iowa Medical Society (IMS) highlighted how the state’s medical liability climate is shifting and threatening access to care in the Fall edition of Iowa Medicine. In 2017, a series of reforms including certificate of merit and expert witness requirements were implemented to drive down the number of meritless lawsuits filed in the state. Unfortunately, at the time, reasonable limits on non-economic damages were included only as a “soft cap,” allowing the limit to be waived by a jury in certain instances. MaryGrace Elson, MD, MME, FACOG, President of IMS and an OB/GYN from Iowa City, highlights the outcome of the soft cap in the edition’s feature story, “Our Medical Liability System in Crisis.” “In the past three years, Iowa’s medical liability climate has shifted dramatically,” she notes. “… Iowa’s trial bar has begun cherry-picking cases where there is no dispute that a medical error occurred. Employing questionable tactics that play to juries’ emotions and drive up award expectations, we have seen a string of high-dollar verdicts against physicians and facilities.” Over the past two years, just five lawsuits have led to awards of $63 million in noneconomic damages, and impacted patient…

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October 2019 Newsletter

Alarming rise in premiums highlighted in Medical Liability Monitor The annual Medical Liability Monitor rate survey highlighted a rate increase, not seen in over a decade, and shed light on how the future of liability rates could begin sounding industry alarms. The 2019 Medical Liability Monitor Annual Rate Survey, for the first time since 2006, found that more than 25 percent of medical professional liability (MPL) premium rates increased, while only five percent of rates went down. The overall rate increase year over year was approximately 0.8 percent. The uptick led analysts to study whether or not the conditions exist for a repeat of the cost crisis that occurred in the mid-2000s, with annual rate increases averaging between 10 and 30 percent. Notably, rate increases for general surgery were found to be greater than the average increases. Guest editors of the survey edition, Bill Burns and Alyssa Gittleman from the Insurance Research Department of the global investment management firm Conning, did a deeper dive into the results. According to a press release issued by the Medical Liability Monitor, Gittleman and Burns “compared current market conditions to those which preceded the last hard market. They note similarities between the two in…

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August 2019 Newsletter

Liability reforms must be more than skin deep An analysis by University of Virginia (UVA) researchers on the prevalence of unnecessary medical tests highlighted the effect on health care costs and patient anxiety, leading a retired neurologist to reflect on how reforms must go beyond the superficial. The initiative followed a report by UVA researchers Andrew Parsons, a hospitalist and an assistant professor of medicine, and Joe Wiencek, a pathologist and an assistant professor of pathology, which found that diagnostic care that offered little value to patients is estimated to cost our health care system $800 billion annually. By offering technical solutions, such as a screen alert when a doctor orders a certain test and a weekly email that analyzes the amount of tests a doctor orders as compared with their peers, they seek to drive down unnecessary costs. Retired Virginia neurologist Dr. Justiniano F. Campa urged policymakers and patients to consider the root cause – a physician’s fear of being faced with a lawsuit. “I have to point out that the main reason for those tests lies in doctors’ fear of being sued, an event that can stop and destroy a hard-earned reputation and career,” Campa writes. While he…

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July 2019 Newsletter

Opportunity for ACCESS: Liability reform introduced in Congress A new bill introduced in Congress offers the opportunity to limit the patchwork of medical liability laws and bring certainty to patients across the country seeking access to care. The Accessible Care by Curbing Excessive LawSuitS Act (ACCESS Act) is a comprehensive medical liability reform bill introduced by Representative Richard Hudson (R-NC) and modeled after proven reforms already in place in Texas, California, and many other states around the country. Rep. Hudson was joined in introducing the bill by Representatives Roger Marshall, MD (R-KS) and Larry Bucshon, MD (R-IN). The bill, H.R. 3656, ensures full and unlimited recovery of economic damages to deserving patients for expenses such as lost wages, past and future medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses. The legislation also permits the additional recovery of up to $250,000 for non-economic damages, such as damages awarded for pain and suffering, and the bill also protects states’ rights in the process. Recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate that the provisions included in the bill would reduce federal spending by about $14 billion over five years, and almost…

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June 2019 Newsletter

Lifting liability limits in New Mexico could take medical system from bad to worse Already ranking two spots from the bottom on access to health care when compared to all U.S. states, New Mexico patients now face another obstacle if personal injury attorneys have their way. Challenges stemming from a rural landscape, an aging population, and low physician pay influencing recruitment already make it difficult for patients to access affordable health care. Making things worse is an attempt to raise reasonable limits on non-economic damages to $2 million for individual physicians and $25 million for medical entities, which includes many small practices. Michael Kaufman, MD, of Taos Medical Group, who has practiced internal medicine in Taos for more than 40 years, expressed what many fellow practitioners were feeling: “If this goes through, we’re out of here.” Dr. Kaufman cited an impossible operating environment for a four-physician, three-nurse practitioner practice due to higher insurance premiums required to remain covered under an increased limit. While the measure was defeated – for now – due to overwhelming opposition by the healthcare community demonstrating their concern for their patients’ access to healthcare, it remains likely to be introduced again in the future. Click here…

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