A New Low for Liability Claims in Wisconsin

After enacting comprehensive liability laws, Wisconsin patients and physicians are reaping the benefits of a system that has greatly reduced meritless lawsuits and managed health care costs across the state.
According to analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, doctors in Wisconsin were liable for fewer medical liability claims per capita than physicians in any other state in 2014.
The effectiveness of the state’s reasonable limits on non-economic damages, use of expert testimony to establish the standard of care, and an Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund for legitimate liability claims have reduced medical lawsuit abuse and ensured health care services remain open and accessible to all patients.
While Wisconsin is one notable example of how effective comprehensive medical liability reforms can be, states that have challenging political and liability climates – including New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey – consistently rank among the highest in liability claims per capita.
Without reforms enacted on the federal level, patients and physicians will experience a patchwork of laws that pass on higher costs and less certain operating environments to those seeking and providing critical care.
To read more about the success of liability reforms in Wisconsin, click here.

Medical Lawsuit Abuse Disproportionately Harms Male Doctors

While the number of meritless lawsuits remains high across many medical specialties, a new study finds that male doctors in particular are most likely to be faced with a medical liability lawsuit.
On a global level, male doctors are more than twice as likely to have legal action taken against them than their female counterparts – even when controlling for factors such as concentration of male and female physicians in specialties that are more likely to be targeted by medical lawsuit abuse.
While the authors of the study hope their findings will improve patient care, commentary in Washington Post coverage of the news notes the impact on the increased number of lawsuits against physicians in general.
“The enormous expanse in legal action taken against U.S. doctors in the past 20 years has brought some people to argue that the rise of lawsuits has contributed to high hospital bills. One study published in Health Affairs found that the medical liability system in the United States costs around $55 billion in health care spending every year.”
Regardless of the concentration of medical lawsuits, policymakers, health care providers, and most importantly, patients, are negatively affected by a hostile liability climate that leads to increases in costs while reducing access to care.
To read more about the study on the concentration of medical lawsuits, click here.

Legislative Update

As Congress returns to work in early September, the Health Coalition on Liability and Access will continue to press Members of Congress on passage of medical liability reform bills that would protect patients and make improvements towards a fair and equitable liability system. At the same time, HCLA will closely monitor any legislation which could have an effect on the medical liability system – for good or bad.
With bipartisan support and 22 co-sponsors, the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act (H.R. 865) introduced in the House by Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) would help protect medical volunteers from lawsuits during a large-scale disaster, and ensure that vital health care services are available to disaster victims without altering liability laws that may currently exist in a particular state. HCLA members are pursuing additional cosponsors in the House as well as introduction of a Senate version of the bill.
Also gaining advocates is the Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act (H.R. 921/S. 689), which was introduced in both the House and the Senate. This legislation — which has 79 bipartisan cosponsors in the House and seven in the Senate — would provide liability protection to sports team physicians and athletic trainers who travel with athletes and sports teams across state lines to provide care during sporting events. Supporters of the bill include the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, PIAA, American Medical Association, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, and the Federation of State Medical Boards.
Other legislation pending before Congress is the Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act (H.R. 2603/S. 1475). This legislative effort brings together a physician — Sen. John Barasso (R-Wy.) — and an attorney — Rep. Andy Barr R-Ky.) to take a new approach to medical liability claims. The bills would provide physicians who document adherence to evidence-based clinical practice guidelines limited medical liability protections. The HCLA, as a coalition, has not yet taken a formal position on the bill, as the medical community is divided over whether such an approach would actually be beneficial or would have serious unintended consequences, but will continue to monitor the legislation closely.
With bipartisanship a running thread through all of these bills, it is more clear than ever that policymakers from both sides of the aisle are motivated to work together to address issues of patient access and care.