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Patients and Physicians Held Hostage by Politics In Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s inability to reform its broken medical liability system has forced it to provide insurance premium subsidies to some 35,000 of its physicians and other medical professionals to keep them from fleeing the state. That subsidy has now fallen victim to a dispute between Governor Rendell and the Pennsylvania Senate, with the Governor refusing to approve its extension until lawmakers agree to a $1 billion expansion of healthcare coverage to the uninsured. This kind of politicking strikes PPN as a good way to make a bad situation worse, for the uninsured and every other patient whose access to care is being limited by Pennsylvania’s physician shortage. Without the subsidy, primary-care doctors will have to pay out an additional $12,500 a year, while high-risk specialists will see their premiums spike an additional $13,000 (for general surgeons) to $18,000 (for neurosurgeons) over their already sky-high levels. How many physicians who are just hanging on now will decide it just isn’t worth it any longer? How many more medical students and residents will follow the 92 percent of their cohorts who now abandon the state upon graduation? No wonder Americans are fed up with politics as usual. For more information on Pennsylvania’s high stakes game of chicken with patients’ health care, click here.
Good News from Ohio and Illinois
It looks like Ohio’s medical liability reforms are beginning to moderate that state’s patient access to care crisis, with the Ohio Department of Insurance reporting earlier this year that medical liability claims declined about 20 percent from 2005 to 2006. Premiums are down too. In 2007, premiums charged by the big five underwriters dropped an average of 10.9 percent, following a drop of 1.7 percent in 2006. That contrasts with an increase of 31 percent in 2002, the year before reforms were passed. Dr. Paul Jones, an obstetrician in Lake County notes that his premiums peaked at $120,000 in 2002, “but my most recent premium is down to $65,000, so that is a major, major success.” You can read the full story here.
Meanwhile, Illinois’ medical liability reforms are also having a positive effect on patient care, despite a Supreme Court challenge that puts their ultimate fate in jeopardy. The latest good news is that with claims falling, the largest medical liability insurer in the state will be refunding a total of $11 million to their insureds. That comes to about $500 to $1,000 each. Read the full story here.
New Study Compares Tort Systems — Reform Improves Health Care for Patients
A new study by the Pacific Research Institute, US Tort Liability Index: 2008 Report, measures the best and worst tort systems in America. In the report, the authors examine evidence provided by top economists and legal scholars on the benefits of tort reform in peoples’ lives and conclude that, among other things, reform improves health care and health care access. The report also discusses the cost of defensive medicine – most of which is prompted by medical liability concerns – which has now reached the astounding total of $163 billion a year. This is the sum of the direct costs of defensive medicine, estimated to be $124 billion a year by PriceWaterhouse Coopers, and PRI’s own estimate of the $39 billion indirect costs from lost productivity due to reduced access to health care attributable to defensive medicine. According to PRI, increased health-care costs brought on by defensive medicine have also added some 3.4 million Americans to the rolls of the uninsured. You can read the full study here.
Voter Victory In Wisconsin
In a stunning rebuke to Wisconsin’s activist Supreme Court, voters in that state turned out one of the high court’s justices for the first time in over forty years. At least part of the reason, according to an article by John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, was the court’s ruling that struck down Wisconsin’s limits on non-economic damages in medical liability cases. Apparently, Wisconsin voters agreed with Fund’s assessment of the judicial reasoning behind that ruling as “bizarre.” You can read the full story here.