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An Open Letter from
Stuart L. Weinstein, M.D.
Chairman, Doctors for Medical Liability Reform
This will be our last newsletter before the elections on November 4. I’m not one to prognosticate on likely winners and losers, but I do know that no matter who becomes the President, and no matter which political party controls the US Congress, medical liability reform will be as important – maybe even more important – than ever, and Protect Patients Now must continue to lead the charge to stop medical lawsuit abuse.
There’s too much at stake to sit back and do nothing. Our nation’s broken medical liability system is driving good doctors out of the practice of medicine and threatening patient access to quality health care. Nowhere is this access to care crisis more critical than in our nation’s emergency care system. Patients expect and deserve to get the care they need when they need it – especially in the emergency department. But, unfortunately, readers of the Protect Patients Now newsletter know better. Two-thirds of emergency directors reported shortages of on-call specialists, such as neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons, and medical lawsuit abuse has contributed to the closure of trauma centers and emergency departments nationwide – which means that patients must travel farther for life-saving emergency medical care.
We must make sure patients are able to get the care they need when they need it. As the nation’s leading group of patients, physicians and concerned citizens in support of medical liability reform, we must make sure that our message is heard in the White House and in the new Congress. Senators Obama and McCain both agree our nation’s health care system needs reform and that the current medical liability system does not serve the needs of patients. We must work together to find a solution that protects patients.
As readers of this newsletter know, Protect Patients Now/Doctors for Medical Liability Reform was a leading sponsor of an agenda-setting conference in Orlando this September on health care reform. (You can watch a webcast of conference here.) As some of our nation’s leading health care experts, patient advocates, and political, union and corporate leaders discussed and debated the issues, one issue kept coming up: medical liability reform can expand access to care, enhance patient safety, and lower overall health care costs.
But we all know the political hurdles that lie before us. According to OpenSecrets.org, lawyers and law firms are once again the largest industry contributor in the 2008 election cycle, giving $181 million to political campaigns as of the FEC reports released on October 19. That puts them well on track to have their biggest year ever, and you can bet that personal injury lawyers aren’t going to sit back on their laurels after the elections.
So, whether we’re playing offense or defense, one thing is for sure: if we’re not in the game, we can’t win. If we’re not trying to advance the ball, the other side will keep scoring against us.
No matter who wins on November 4, we know what we will be doing — keeping our message of reform front and center before Congress and the American people, and we look forward to your continued support in our crucial work to stop medical lawsuit abuse.
A Real Life Game of Survivor
It sounds like the game show Survivor – three orthopaedic surgeons in Hawaii are being forced off the island, but this time the stakes are high and it’s no game. Dr. John Bellatti and two other surgeons from the Big Island are ending their practices there due to the rising cost of practicing in Hawaii, a condition that continues to worsen after a plan to curb frivolous liability lawsuits was killed during the Hawaii’s last legislative session.
Over 4,000 patients visited Dr. Bellatti and the other fleeing orthopaedic surgeons last year. With only a few orthopaedic surgeons left on the Big Island, present and future patients may soon find themselves forced off the island themselves. For the full story, click here.
Meanwhile, the small island territory of Guam is also experiencing a severe lack of practicing physicians because of the difficulty of obtaining medical malpractice insurance there. A bill is in the works in the Guam Legislature to set reasonable limits on economic damages and allow malpractice suits to go into arbitration before a jury trial. Passage of this legislation may be the only chance Guam has to revive its physician population. To read more, click here.
M-Care or No Care?
As readers of the Newsletter are well aware, Pennsylvania’s liability crisis has been spiraling downhill for years now. Doctors have been fleeing the state in record numbers and conditions are so bad that despite having some of the best medical schools in the country, the state is barely able to hold on to 20% of its medical residents when they finish their training there.
The one thing holding the situation together has been the state’s supplemental liability insurance program, M-Care, which helps to mitigate the high cost of premiums. Now Governor Ed Rendell wants to raid the program to finance a “universal” health care bill.
As Dr. Frederic Jarrett, a clinical professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, points out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, high premiums have driven out so many doctors and discouraged so many others from setting up practice in the state that only about 7 to 9 percent of Pennsylvania doctors are under 35 years old and in some specialties, more than 40% are over 50 years old.
In the last year alone, Dr. Jarrett has seen his liability premiums go up 40%. If Governor Rendell gets his way, he may create the first state to experiment with the novel idea of “universal health care” with no doctors. Click here to read Dr. Jarrett’s op-ed.