Protect Patients Now

Volume 7, Issue 8 August 2012 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

Back to the Breaking Point in Missouri
Better than OK: Liability Changes Successful in Oklahoma
An Rx for Reform in Oregon
Physicians, Attorneys Join Together to Pass Liability Reform in Massachusetts

Back to the Breaking Point in Missouri

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of personal injury lawyers and against patients and physicians earlier this month when it struck down a 2005 law reforming the states’ medical liability system and placing reasonable limits on non-economic damages.

The limits had been tested in court previously, and consistently upheld, until the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month.

According to Missouri Medical Association President Stephen Slocum, MD, the ruling “turns back the clock to a time when a medical lawsuit crisis had pushed Missouri doctors to the breaking point.”

Prior to 2005, physician shortages were common and access to critical care was sporadic throughout the state. Now, warns MSMA executive vice president Tim Holloway, medical lawsuit abuse and increases in costs and liability premiums are likely.

Because of the patchwork of medical liability laws that vary from state to state, as well as the changing political climates that turn the tides against reform of a broken liability system, passing medical liability reform at the federal level is the only way to ensure fairness and access to quality medical care for both patients and physicians.

To read more about the Supreme Court ruling that could put Missouri’s health care system back at the breaking point, click here.

Better than OK: Liability Changes Successful in Oklahoma

Medical liability reform passed in Oklahoma in 2009 has been better than OK – it’s been successful in reducing the number of meritless lawsuits filed in the state, and will continue to help Oklahoma hospitals train and recruit physicians and expand access to care to rural areas.

Since the reforms were passed, the number of judgments has hit a 10 year low throughout the state.

The change is definitely the result of the tort reform effort, especially the certificate of merit requirement, said Dr. Carl Hook, President and CEO of PLICO, one of the largest insurance providers in the state.

“It prevents any attorney from just going to the courthouse and filing a claim without … validating it,” Hook said. “The frequency has dropped tremendously, and that is the main cause of it.”

Click here to read more about the success of medical liability reforms, and add Oklahoma to the list of states that have proved personal injury lawyers wrong, by lowering costs and increasing access to care for patients.

An Rx for Reform in Oregon

A committee focused on making changes to Oregon’s medical liability system began meeting this month, thanks to a sweeping health care reform bill that passed through the legislature last session.

While reasonable limits on non-economic damages were favored by many lawmakers during the health care debate, political pressure eventually led them to drop the issue in exchange for a work group that would bring forward proposals for liability reform to the legislature in 2013.

Limits on non-economic damages have twice been defeated at the ballot box in Oregon, leading Governor Kitzhaber to move forward with a different approach.

The governor released his recommendations to the work group this week, proposing that patients or health care providers who believe a “serious event” has occurred would have to file notice, leading to a process of discussions that could result in an apology, an offer of compensation or both. If the discussions do not resolve the claim within a defined period, the matter then goes to mediation.

A lawsuit would result only if mediation fails to resolve a liability dispute.

The work group consisting of lawmakers, lawyers, and physicians may be a dose of good medicine for Oregon’s patients, and a step in the right direction to cure what ails that state’s broken liability system. To read more about the work group and medical liability reform in Oregon, click here.

Physicians, Attorneys Join Together to Pass Liability Reform in Massachusetts

What began as a pilot program to critically reform Massachusetts’ medical liability system has now been signed into law and has the support of the unlikeliest of allies – both physicians and personal injury lawyers.

The Disclosure, Apology, and Offer approach to settling medical liability claims in the commonwealth was announced in April as an initiative launched by an alliance of six major health care and patient advocacy organizations.

The approach was part of a health care cost control bill passed earlier this month, and included provisions for a six-month, pre-litigation resolution period that affords the time to go through a Disclosure, Apology and Offer process consisting of the sharing of all pertinent medical records by the patient, full disclosure by providers, and statements of apology by providers to be inadmissible in court.

The Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Bar Association, and Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys all agreed to the language and understand how the reforms will benefit patients throughout the state.

Massachusetts Bar Association Vice President Jeffrey N. Catalano welcomed “a law that is in the best interests of patients in that it requires full disclosure, and encourages early resolution, while also protecting a patient’s right to seek legal assistance to ensure fair compensation.”

While continuing to support comprehensive reforms that include reasonable limits on non-economic damages, the HCLA applauds efforts to fix a system that works for neither patients nor physicians. To read more about the how Massachusetts is moving forward on liability reform, click here.

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