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 reform this session, click here.

Liability lawsuits affecting cardiac care

With a majority of cardiologists reporting that they have been involved in a liability lawsuit, trust between patients and physicians has been eroding alongside access to care.

An annual survey of 4,300 cardiologists by Medscape found that two-thirds of cardiologists self-reported that they had been named in at least one liability lawsuit, and nearly as many were ‘very surprised’ to be faced with litigation.

For physicians, this stems from the fact that half of those surveyed highlighted that no trigger incident sparked the litigation from a patient. This resulted in responses from about a third of physician respondents highlighting that the issue led to distrust of patients and, oftentimes, the practice of defensive medicine.

Cardiologists surveyed recommended changes in laws that would result in the payment of attorneys’ fees for physicians if no negligence is found, as well as screening cases for merit to discourage medical lawsuit abuse.

A majority of those who responded to the survey were supportive of medical organizations and societies, such as the Health Coalition on Liability and Access and its members, doing more to enact comprehensive liability reform and protect physicians from meritless lawsuits.

To read more about the survey of cardiologists, Click here.

Mental health challenges lead to new liability threats

Litigation in Pennsylvania over involuntary commitment of mental health patients has made its way to the state Supreme Court, adding to the threat of liability lawsuits for health care providers.

The root of the lawsuit is based on unique interpretation of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), which provides physicians who treat mentally ill patients with limited immunity in cases of involuntary treatments but includes exceptions for physicians who act with “willful misconduct or gross negligence.” The plaintiffs contend that treating physicians were grossly negligent in not involuntarily committing the patient, and thus are able to sue notwithstanding the protections provided by the bill.

The Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies in December joined the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society in filing an amicus brief in the case, Leight v. University of Pittsburgh Physicians, et al.

In doing so, the groups wrote in favor of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upholding an appellate court decision that does not open physicians up to a new liability when they are making outpatient treatment decisions involving mental health patients.

Overturning the appellate court ruling could open up new avenues of liability, and lead to physicians involuntarily committing more patients over the fear of being sued.

The brief emphasizes the severity of the case at hand by concluding that “expanding the scope of liability of health care professionals would strain the mental health care system by increasing the costs of patient care…it will not lead to a safer community or better mental health care. It could very easily have the opposite effect, putting more patients and others at greater risk.”

To read more about how access to mental health care could be at risk in Pennsylvania, Click here.