Liability litigation threatens access to care in three states

As medical liability reform continues to await consideration by the US Senate, the successes of state-based reforms are threatened by legal challenges that could limit access to affordable care.

In Maryland and Michigan, personal injury attorneys are attempting to advance cases by filing ordinary negligence claims, rather than medical negligence claims, to skirt pre-trial reviews intended to weed out meritless lawsuits. In Kentucky, the constitutionality of a law enacted earlier this year on using medical review boards to assess the merit of a case is being challenged.

In the Maryland case, a number of lower courts ruled that the proper procedure of submitting a claim with the Maryland Healthcare Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Office for pre-suit arbitration had not been followed prior to allowing a liability claim to move forward. The issue now awaits a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, which could affect the efficiency in which deserving patients receive compensation.

“We’re worried that, if this went through, it would be a significant roundabout of the system we’ve worked out over the last 20 years,” said Stephen Rockower, MD, President of MedChi (Maryland State Medical Society). The American Medical Association filed an amicus brief in this case in order to support proper pre-trial reviews on the merits of a medical liability claim.

A similar case in Michigan lacked an affidavit of merit – a requirement of the state’s liability law – and now also awaits a decision by that state’s highest court. An amicus brief filed by the American Medical Association and the Michigan State Medical Society in that case argued that allowing claims to thwart the requirement “undermines the tort reform protocol established by the legislature to weed out non-meritorious cases.” Similar efforts are being coordinated with the Kentucky Medical Association, to help defend that states recently enacted medical review panel law.

To read more about the fight to maintain patient access to care through comprehensive liability laws at the state level, click here.

House speaker: Rep. King interviewed on Protecting Access to Care Act

As an architect of the Protecting Access to Care Act, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), worked to bring together opposing factions to pass comprehensive medical liability reform in the House of Representatives earlier this year.

In an interview with Healthcare Matters, Rep. King discusses how he ensured states’ rights would be maintained under the law and why reforms at the federal level are necessary.

“There are a good number of states that don’t have that reform,” King said. “So there’s more that we need to do – and I’d like it if we can get this bill passed by the Senate.”

“We tweaked it as many ways as we could see to let states have as much say as possible. Even if the states passed a different cap, then that is the cap for their state… that gives more states’ rights.”

And in light of the fact that a repeal of Affordable Care Act appears unlikely in the near future, King felt medical liability reform should remain a key health care objective.
“[This bill] operates independently, my legislation stands alone and is effective in either case,” King said.

To listen to Rep. King’s interview in full, click here.

Opposition to liability reform continues after House passage

Even as the US House passed medical liability reform earlier this summer, the opposition continued attempts to invalidate the successes of stakeholder groups, including HCLA members, that worked alongside Members of Congress in support of the legislation.

Countering commentary that the Protecting Access to Care Act is “new” legislation designed without concern for the needs of patients, HCLA member PIAA defended the role of advocacy groups in promoting the bill based on proven state reforms and legislation already passed through the House many times before.

“Lobbyists’ role in “drafting” the bill was merely to provide proposed fixes meant to address concerns raised by reform opponents,” Brian Atchison, president and chief executive of PIAA clarified on the role of stakeholders as medical liability reform legislation was being considered.

“Passage of the medical liability reform bill is an example of our government working as it should — legislators consulting with their constituencies, stakeholders providing feedback and those concerns being appropriately considered,” Atchinson concluded.

To read the full PIAA letter to the editor on how patient and physician advocacy groups supported federal liability reform legislation, click here.

Case study in rural maternity care cites liability concerns

A case study into a rural maternity care crisis found troubling issues for women seeking access to critical pre-natal health care services, with liability concerns partly to blame.

According to the Wall Street Journal and recent surveys of medical professionals, many rural hospitals have eliminated labor and delivery services, particularly for high-risk patients, forcing pregnant women to travel longer distances for prenatal and delivery care.

The number of rural hospitals that offered such services fell by 15% from 2004 to 2014, the Journal found in an analysis of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data. This compared to just a 5% decline in the same services among urban and suburban hospitals.

“Driving the changes are factors including closing of medical facilities, a decline in birthrates and the difficulties of getting malpractice insurance,” the case study determined.

To read more about the grave state of rural health care and the need for medical liability reform to improve access to care, click here.