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Moving Forward: HCLA Sets Priorities, Agenda for 2013 at Annual Meeting
With comprehensive medical liability reform legislation waiting to take center stage later this year, HCLA members met in Washington this month to discuss recent developments at the state level and hear from liability reform experts and Members of Congress on the path forward for federal reform in 2013.
Speakers at this year’s Annual Meeting included Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), the Honorable Judy Harris Kluger of the New York State Unified Court System, David Pulliam of Congressman Phil Gringrey’s (R-GA) office, Kristin Schleiter of the American Medical Association, and Matt Fullenbaum of the American Tort Reform Association.
Senator Blunt, a key supporter of federal medical liability reform, opened the meeting by discussing last year’s reform efforts and the windows of opportunity for moving legislation forward in the 113th Congress. He also talked about state reform efforts that have been effective in reducing health care costs, while preserving access to patient care.
Additional topics on the agenda at this year’s meeting included plaintiff lawyers’ legislative strategies, a judge-directed negotiation program currently operating in New York, and an update on legislative achievements at the state level.
“While we continue to see lower health care costs and increased access to care in states that have passed medical liability reforms, the patchwork of laws that differ from state to state must be reconciled. For that reason, we remain dedicated to passing comprehensive medical liability reform at the federal level,” Chairman Mike Stinson said in closing the meeting.
“The coalition will continue our efforts to work with our allies in Congress to fix this system by reducing costs, limiting the practice of defensive medicine and protecting patients – not personal injury lawyers.”
Our speakers were informative and engaging, and we thank all of those in attendance. To view a photo album from the meeting, click here.
Orszag: Improving Fiscal Health Through Liability Reform
Peter Orszag, a leading voice on health care reform and former budget chief in President Obama’s administration, recently wrote about improving patient – and fiscal – health through changes to our broken medical liability system.
Orszag opposes the across-the-board cuts currently being implemented, and writes that, “Far more beneficial would be to make sure that the deceleration in health costs we have been enjoying continues. This is why medical-malpractice reform, although far from a panacea, is worth trying.”
Commenting on recent research, Orszag favors establishing national standards of practice by medical associations to ensure physicians practice good medicine and are protected under “safe harbor” laws for doing so.
“Presumably, then, health-care costs could come down if all states’ malpractice laws protected doctors who followed national standards of practice,” he writes.
But because a patchwork of laws that vary state to state continue to be under attack by personal injury lawyers and their political allies, the letter emphasizes that it will take comprehensive reforms at the federal level to protect patients and physicians.
“The study is at least suggestive that such a safe-harbor approach to reforming the malpractice laws would have a big impact on doctors’ behavior… and that change in behavior could, in turn, do more to improve the U.S.’s fiscal picture than implementing the sequester would,” Orszag concludes.
To read Peter Orszag’s full column on liability reform and the health of our nation, click here.
Liability Reform Considered as Part of Senate Budget Bill
On the Senate floor last week was the budget for fiscal year 2014, and medical liability reform made its way into the debate in the form of an amendment offered by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH).
Senator Portman offered an amendment calling for the passage of medical liability reforms, in order to reduce the deficit by $63.86 billion between FY 2014 and FY 2023. While the amendment had bipartisan support, it unfortunately failed by a vote of 43-56.
The HCLA commends Senator Portman for his efforts in advancing liability reform and will continue to work with our friends and allies on both sides of the aisle to make long overdue changes to a liability system that works for neither patients nor physicians.
Oregon Takes Alternate Route to Reform
Earlier this month, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed into law a bill that attempts to take a different approach to reducing medical lawsuit abuse and protecting patients.
While the bill is not liability reform in the traditional sense, it would provide opportunities for patients, physicians, and hospitals to enter into voluntary discussions and mediations, including settlement offers, under the authority of the Oregon Patient Safety Commission.
Governor Kitzhaber’s goals in reforming Oregon’s liability system were to improve the safety of patients, allow them compensation for medical “events,” and reduce insurance and legal costs to doctors and hospitals.
“I think the result is an innovative piece of legislation that meets all three of these metrics, and also allows physicians and patients to get together to try to address these issues,” Governor Kitzhaber said.
The bill had the support of both the Oregon Medical Association and the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association, but some are questioning the workability of this novel concept. To read more about Oregon’s alternative approach to medical liability reform, click here.