Category Archives: Newsletter

January 2018 Newsletter

Medical organizations paving the way for Senate consideration of liability reform Following House passage of comprehensive medical liability reform in 2017, medical organizations representing patients and physicians, including the HCLA, have taken a leading role in aiming their efforts at Senate consideration of the legislation. With a goal of reducing medical lawsuit abuse and enacting federal reforms that eliminate inconsistent and ever-changing state liability laws, specialty physician organizations and health care coalitions have emphasized the need to move forward on reform. Citing a need to compensate those patients who are truly the victims of medical negligence, American Association of Family Practitioners president Michael Munger, MD emphasized that reform is needed because “too much money is diverted from patient care to liability insurance premiums and the legal fees that are part of a lawsuit.” The bill under consideration relies on a history of success among states with the climate to enact such positive reforms. “This legislation adopts many of the reforms which have been thoroughly tested in the states and which have proven successful in improving the medical liability climate in those states,” stated the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons, also an HCLA member,…

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December 2017 Newsletter

Year-end report sheds light on “Judicial Hellholes” The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) end-of-year “Judicial Hellholes” report offers a public glimpse at the most unfriendly jurisdictions for those defending themselves against civil litigation, including medical liability lawsuits. At the top of the list this year was Florida, where once-strong medical liability reforms have been continuously rolled back at the expense of patients seeking affordable and accessible care. “This year, thanks to a state high court majority’s barely contained contempt for the policy-making authority of the legislative and executive branches of government, and a notoriously aggressive and sometimes lawless plaintiffs’ bar, Florida earns the ignominious #1 ranking among eight Judicial Hellholes…” said American Tort Reform Association president Tiger Joyce. Also high on the list was St. Louis, where “antiquated rules have made it a favorite of personal-injury lawyers shopping for big-money verdicts” resulting in $300 million in awards since 2015. However, recent changes in state government, including a governor in support of changes to the liability system, do hold promise for much-needed reform in the coming year. To read more about ATRA’s “Judicial Hellholes” executive summary and report on the where physicians and defendants fare the worst when it comes to…

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November 2017 Newsletter

Physician opinions: medical liability lawsuits and impact on care Holding strong opinions about the current liability climate, its impact on patient care, and the way to discourage medical lawsuit abuse, physicians weighed in on the way toward comprehensive medical liability reform. Surveying over 4100 physicians across more than 25 specialties currently practicing in the US, Medscape captured the prevailing thoughts of physicians who bear the brunt of a broken system that costs too much, takes too long, and undermines their relationship with their patients. With 55 percent of those taking part in the survey responding that they had been named in a medical liability lawsuit, specialists across surgery and OB/GYN practices were found to be most likely to be sued. Eighty-five percent of respondents in each specialty noted that at one point or another in their careers, they were forced to spend countless hours on defense preparation and in court for lawsuits, that, 40 percent of the time, took between one to two years to resolve. As a result, 45 percent of physicians report that the threat of medical liability lawsuits are on their mind all or most of the time – a driving factor in the practice of defensive…

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October 2017 Newsletter

Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling could lead to medical lawsuit abuse Patients and physicians in Oklahoma could face a deteriorating liability climate in the coming years, as the state Supreme Court recently ruled against an effective liability reform. This setback to accessible and affordable care is the third time the Supreme Court has ruled against a certificate of merit requirement, following several revisions to past legislation which had also been invalidated by the Court. The latest version of the reforms included expanding the scope of expert witness affidavits to include all civil negligence actions which required testimony by an expert, following previous rulings that the law put a higher burden on victims of professional negligence than victims of general negligence. “We believe the certificate of merit has been an important legal reform that helped prevent baseless lawsuits, and we will look carefully at our options and next steps to address today’s ruling,” said Wes Glinsmann, executive director of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. Without an umbrella of federal reforms, medical liability at the state level has too often been a game of one step forward, two steps back, as reforms are passed and then continuously challenged by the personal injury lobby….

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September 2017 Newsletter

Liability concerns drive up defensive medicine, cost of care Providing treatment above what is medically necessary to fend off the threat of a lawsuit continues to be a trend – and a major driver of health care cost increases. A study of over 2100 physicians conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that more than two-thirds of respondents believe that 15-30% of tests, procedures, and prescriptions were unnecessarily recommended. The reason? Liability concerns. Over 80% of the physicians surveyed cited the fear of medical liability lawsuits as the justification for practicing defensive medicine. “Addressing overtreatment can have a major impact on rising healthcare costs in the U.S.,” the authors wrote. “Using the Institute of Medicine’s estimate of excess costs arising from overtreatment, a 50% reduction in ‘unnecessary services’ would result in $105 billion in savings each year, or about 4% of total national healthcare spending.” With a patchwork of laws leaving uncertainty about the liability climate from state to state, physicians surveyed recommended a series of changes that could help in the interim, including improved training on appropriate criteria for care, more accessible medical records, and evidence-based practice guidelines. To read more about the Johns Hopkins study on defensive medicine, click…

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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…

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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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Florida patients face uncertainty after liability reforms deemed unconstitutional

On Thursday, in a 4-3 decision by the Florida Supreme Court, a 2003 law setting caps on medical malpractice damages in personal injury cases was declared unconstitutional. The law, which was strongly supported by then governor Jeb Bush, limited non-economic damages in malpractice cases in which a patient was injured to $500,000, or $1 million if the injuries were catastrophic. At the time the legislation was passed Florida physicians were faced with skyrocketing malpractice insurance premium rates with many exiting practice in the state. The decision comes three years after the court struck down caps in cases where malpractice resulted in death. The four-member majority ruled that the caps on “non-economic” damages violated equal-protection rights, that the caps were arbitrary and that there is no proof that they reduced malpractice insurance rates. They also said that there is no existing malpractice insurance “crisis” to justify the caps. “We conclude that the caps on noneconomic damages … arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries,” said the majority opinion shared by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. The three dissenting justices, Ricky Polston, Alan Lawson and Charles Canady, issued…

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Trial lawyers push bill for heftier fees in malpractice cases

Trial lawyers are trying to slip in a fast one in the waning days of the legislative session in Albany that would fatten their legal fees in medical malpractice cases. Lawyers can earn 30 percent of the first $250,000 recovered in medical malpractice recoveries, dropping to 20 percent of the next $500,000, 15 percent of the following $250,000 and 10 percent of any amount over $1.25 million. A bill introduced on Sunday by Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn) would allow much heftier fees. The 30 percent cut would be applied to the first $1 million recovered, 25 percent of the next $250,000 and 20 percent of any amount over $1.25 million in cases decided by the end of 2019. The contingency fees then get bumped up even higher — 30 percent of the first $1.25 million and 25 percent of any amount over that — in cases decided before Dec. 31, 2020. And after Dec. 31, 2020, lawyers could collect the contingency fee percentage allowed in all other litigation — 33 percent of recoveries. “This is a gift to the trial lawyers. The bill would directly take money from injured…

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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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