January 2018 Newsletter


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  • January 31, 2018

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, is pushing for consideration of the House-passed bill as well as a series of incremental reforms focused on protections for sports medicine professionals, Good Samaritan health professionals lending their expertise in the wake of a disaster, and physicians who follow their specialty society’s clinical practice guidelines.

The HCLA itself recognizes the uphill battle in Senate consideration, but Chair Mike Stinson expressed that the organization “remain[s] committed to advancing true reform legislation if at all possible.”

To read more about the efforts health care organizations are putting forth on behalf of patients and physicians across the country to pave the road to reform click here.

Good news for Good Samaritans as bill nears a vote

Good Samaritan physicians hoping to lend their services in times of need may no longer face the fear of being turned away due to liability concerns, as legislation extending protections to health care professionals offering their services across state lines following disasters is under consideration in Congress.

With bipartisan support and a commonsense goal of reducing medical lawsuit abuse in the wake of disasters, the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act of 2017 (H.R. 1876) was drafted with the goal of enabling an adequate supply of trained health care professionals to be ready, willing and able to volunteer their services during a catastrophe.

“Inconsistencies in current federal and state laws could subject medical professionals and licensed health care providers to unjust medical liability lawsuits when they volunteer their services to disaster victims,” stated a letter penned by 31 members of the HCLA to House Energy and Commerce subcommittee leaders. “The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act of 2017 would help protect medical volunteers from such lawsuits during a federally-declared disaster, and ensure that vital health care services often provided by medical volunteers remain available – all while respecting existing medical liability laws in individual states.”

Passed by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, the bill now awaits a vote by the overall House Energy and Commerce Committee before moving on to consideration by the full House of Representatives.

To read the letter sent to Energy and Commerce committee leaders, click here.

Burdened by broken liability system, patients and physicians feel higher cost of care

Recently released policy research highlights the way in which our nation’s broken liability system forces Americans to pay more for medical expenses – without little to show on the side of patient care.

Outlined in the American Medical Association’s Policy Research Perspective series, three new reports give a glimpse at the cost burden shared by both patients and physicians as a lack of federal liability reform increases health care costs and reduces access to care.
“Information in this new research paints a bleak picture of physicians’ experiences with medical liability claims and the associated cost burdens on the health system,” said AMA President David O. Barbe, M.D., M.H.A. “The reports validate the fact that preserving quality and access in medicine, while reducing cost, requires fairness in the civil justice system. Every dollar spent on the broken medical liability system is a dollar that cannot be used to improve patient care.”

Making up the first part of the research report were a serious of studies that concluded it was less a matter of “if” a physician was sued – and only a matter of “when.” This included finding that more than a third of physicians (34 percent) have had a claim filed against them at some point in their careers, and that general surgeons and obstetricians/gynecologists face the threat of a lawsuit 3.5-4 times greater than their peers practicing pediatrics or psychology.

Detailing the cost of these lawsuits on our health care system, the reports went on to cite that expenses associated with closed medical liability claims have increased 64.5 percent since 2006, and that liability premiums, while stable, continue to exceed $200,000 in states like New York where no liability fixes have been made.

“Even though the vast majority of claims are dropped, dismissed or withdrawn, the heavy cost associated with a litigious climate takes a significant financial toll on our health care system when the nation is working to reduce unnecessary health care costs,” Dr. Barbe said.

For more information on AMA’s medical liability report and advocacy on behalf of the interests of patients and physicians, click here.

North Dakota liability ruling leaves patients in the cold

Striking down the state’s limits on non-economic damages, a North Dakota court became the latest to rule in favor of personal injury attorneys and against patients, absent comprehensive and cohesive federal liability laws.

Reasonable limits of $500,000 in non-economic damages have been in place in North Dakota since 1995.

Ruling on behalf of the South Central Judicial District, Judge Cynthia Feland overturned the limits based on her interpretation that it violated equal protection guaranteed by the North Dakota constitution by arbitrarily reducing damages for people who suffer the most severe injuries. The ruling is expected to be appealed.

North Dakota becomes just the latest state to see judicial activists overturn an effective tort reform as federal medical liability reform awaits consideration by the US Senate.

To read more about the effect of the ruling in North Dakota, click here.