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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