Category Archives: Newsletter

August 2019 Newsletter

Liability reforms must be more than skin deep An analysis by University of Virginia (UVA) researchers on the prevalence of unnecessary medical tests highlighted the effect on health care costs and patient anxiety, leading a retired neurologist to reflect on how reforms must go beyond the superficial. The initiative followed a report by UVA researchers Andrew Parsons, a hospitalist and an assistant professor of medicine, and Joe Wiencek, a pathologist and an assistant professor of pathology, which found that diagnostic care that offered little value to patients is estimated to cost our health care system $800 billion annually. By offering technical solutions, such as a screen alert when a doctor orders a certain test and a weekly email that analyzes the amount of tests a doctor orders as compared with their peers, they seek to drive down unnecessary costs. Retired Virginia neurologist Dr. Justiniano F. Campa urged policymakers and patients to consider the root cause – a physician’s fear of being faced with a lawsuit. “I have to point out that the main reason for those tests lies in doctors’ fear of being sued, an event that can stop and destroy a hard-earned reputation and career,” Campa writes. While he…

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July 2019 Newsletter

Opportunity for ACCESS: Liability reform introduced in Congress A new bill introduced in Congress offers the opportunity to limit the patchwork of medical liability laws and bring certainty to patients across the country seeking access to care. The Accessible Care by Curbing Excessive LawSuitS Act (ACCESS Act) is a comprehensive medical liability reform bill introduced by Representative Richard Hudson (R-NC) and modeled after proven reforms already in place in Texas, California, and many other states around the country. Rep. Hudson was joined in introducing the bill by Representatives Roger Marshall, MD (R-KS) and Larry Bucshon, MD (R-IN). The bill, H.R. 3656, ensures full and unlimited recovery of economic damages to deserving patients for expenses such as lost wages, past and future medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses. The legislation also permits the additional recovery of up to $250,000 for non-economic damages, such as damages awarded for pain and suffering, and the bill also protects states’ rights in the process. Recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate that the provisions included in the bill would reduce federal spending by about $14 billion over five years, and almost…

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June 2019 Newsletter

Lifting liability limits in New Mexico could take medical system from bad to worse Already ranking two spots from the bottom on access to health care when compared to all U.S. states, New Mexico patients now face another obstacle if personal injury attorneys have their way. Challenges stemming from a rural landscape, an aging population, and low physician pay influencing recruitment already make it difficult for patients to access affordable health care. Making things worse is an attempt to raise reasonable limits on non-economic damages to $2 million for individual physicians and $25 million for medical entities, which includes many small practices. Michael Kaufman, MD, of Taos Medical Group, who has practiced internal medicine in Taos for more than 40 years, expressed what many fellow practitioners were feeling: “If this goes through, we’re out of here.” Dr. Kaufman cited an impossible operating environment for a four-physician, three-nurse practitioner practice due to higher insurance premiums required to remain covered under an increased limit. While the measure was defeated – for now – due to overwhelming opposition by the healthcare community demonstrating their concern for their patients’ access to healthcare, it remains likely to be introduced again in the future. Click here…

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May 2019 Newsletter

Minnesota liability ruling trends towards dangerous precedent for patients Setting a troubling precedent that could limit collaborative patient care efforts, the Minnesota Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of expanding liability and opening the door for an increase in medical lawsuit abuse. In mid-April, the Court issued a ruling case of Warren v. Dinter, reversing precedent and stating that the existence of a physician-patient relationship was not a prerequisite for bringing forth a medical liability lawsuit. The Court declared that legal actions could proceed if the harm suffered by an individual — even if they were not considered a patient of the physician — was a “reasonably foreseeable consequence” of the physician’s actions. Supporting the defendant were the American Medical Association (AMA), Minnesota Medical Association (MMA), and the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA), on the basis that this new precedent could expose physicians and other health professionals to expanded liability risks in situations that were previously protected, including unbilled consultations, and discourage collaboration. “The overall expansive language in the Court’s opinion does raise concerns,” said Mark Fogg, general counsel of COPIC, MMA’s endorsed medical professional liability insurance provider. “We respectfully believe that it is important that a physician-patient relationship be established…

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March 2019 Newsletter

Supreme Court changes could improve Florida’s liability climate The liability climate may be changing for the better in Florida, where access to care advocates are optimistic that new state Supreme Court justices will rule in favor of reform. Recently dubbed as the nation’s second worst “judicial hellhole” by the American Tort Reform Association, prior sitting justices voted in 2014 and 2017 to overturn medical liability legislation passed by the state legislature. With three new justices recently appointed to the court, advocates across the state have reason to be hopeful. State Rep. Tom Leek hopes that comprehensive medical liability reforms, including reasonable limits on non-economic damages, will bring justice to deserving patients and help keep health care costs affordable for the state’s aging population. With medical liability reform, “you provide predictability,” Leek said. “You allow insurance carriers to have a better understanding of what their exposure is and with that they can set premiums that are reasonable.” Leek’s recently introduced legislation is supported by the state business community thanks to the positive impact it would have on health care affordability and reduced medical lawsuit abuse, but still faces a high hurdle of opposition. To read more about the renewed push for…

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February 2019 Newsletter

PA Supreme Court avoids rush to judgement on liability rule changes The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced it would delay a proposal that could encourage medical lawsuit abuse across the state. At issue is a proposed rule change that would allow lawsuits to be filed outside of the county where the incident in question occurred. The announcement followed a request by the state Senate to study the issue further before any changes are made. The legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee will look at how the location where liability lawsuits are filed impacts access to care, costs, and compensation. Fifteen years ago, lawsuits could be brought forth in any county where the doctor or hospital did business. Philadelphia, which built up a reputation for its litigious environment, became the city of choice for personal injury attorneys “venue shopping” their lawsuit. The Senate’s report is due to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by Jan. 1, putting a hold on any changes this year. To read more about the proposed changes in Pennsylvania’s liability laws, click here. Costs remain crippling even as liability lawsuits decline While the frequency of medical liability claims show a positive downward trend, the cost of defending a lawsuit and average…

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January 2019 Newsletter

Pennsylvania liability rule change could lead to increase in lawsuit abuse A rule that helped stabilize the medical liability market in Pennsylvania faces the threat of repeal, bringing worry that medical lawsuit abuse could return. Implemented in 2002, reforms mandated that medical liability claims could only stand trial in the county where the alleged medical error occurred to avoid “venue shopping” lawsuits to courts that had a history of favoring large verdicts and personal injury attorneys. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court now proposes eliminating that rule, allowing victims to file lawsuits in any county where the defendant does business — even if the incident in question occurred elsewhere. A coalition that includes the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED), the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), and the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) cites this rule as the primary reason the system has stabilized to its current point. “If history is any indication, this could have devastating effects on patient care,” said Danae Powers, MD, president of PAMED. “In the years before we restricted venue shopping, medical liability premiums rose so quickly that some physicians couldn’t obtain the insurance they needed to treat patients. Others chose to leave Pennsylvania or…

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December 2018 Newsletter

An opinion on collateral source reform in Florida A recent op-ed by a former Florida legislator highlighted the dysfunction in the state’s liability system, including how the lack of collateral source reform in medical liability cases has led to inflated and unnecessary costs. Don Brown, previously a representative in the Florida House, weighed in on Florida’s recent number two position on American Tort Reform Association’s “Judicial Hellholes” list – and on one of the driving factors of increased liability across the state. “These inflated costs are exacerbated by the fact that Florida prohibits juries from seeing the payments made to plaintiffs by outside parties such as insurance companies,” Brown wrote. The issue at hand is the collateral source rule, where a defendant is prohibited from introducing in court any evidence of payments received by the plaintiff, from sources other than the defendant, which might remedy some of the plaintiff’s economic losses. The result is double recovery of damages by plaintiffs since both the defendant and another party, such as an insurance company, pay for the same loss. “The first, and most obvious solution, is to allow juries to see any outside compensation received by the plaintiff for treatment,” Brown suggested….

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November 2018 Newsletter

Arkansas court ruling prevents counting medical liability votes Progress on liability reform in Arkansas hit a snag this fall, as a court ruling ahead of November elections hurt efforts for reforms to move forward. Medical liability reforms championed by Arkansas for Jobs and Justice, including limits on attorneys fees and reasonable caps on non-economic damages, were slated to appear on the November ballot as Issue 1. Initial circuit court challenges to the legitimacy of the ballot question due to the state’s single-subject test were appealed, but ultimately upheld by the state Supreme Court. Although the question still appeared on the ballot, the vote totals were not counted. While vote counts for some counties were released under a Freedom of Information Act request, Carl Vogelphol, campaign manager for Issue 1 proponent Arkansans for Jobs and Justice, said it was hard to know if the issue would have passed or not, but that “we were seeing internal data when the electorate was educated they would’ve voted for it.” To read more about the setback for Arkansas access to care, click here. Kentucky courts remove checks on liability lawsuit merits Legislation passed in 2017 that put in place a plan to ensure the…

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October 2018 Newsletter

Elderly Texans among the beneficiaries of liability reform Liability reforms were a long time coming for the long-term care industry in Texas, where, prior to 2003, half the nursing homes across the state couldn’t find or afford liability insurance. Highly rated nursing homes were frequently targeted by personal injury attorneys pursuing meritless claims, driving up costs that forced them to scale back their care. Big changes came following medical liability reform legislation passed in 2003, when the nursing home industry in Texas experienced dramatic improvements in the care they were able to provide their residents – all thanks to savings from liability insurance premiums. “Texas tort reform saved our organization and the residents that we serve,” said Alan Hale, CEO of Manor Park, a non-profit elderly care facility in west Texas. Now, Texas has 50 percent fewer cases against nursing homes than the national average – evidence that reforms are making an impact. Facilities throughout the state, including Manor Park and another non-profit, Morningside Ministries, have credited liability reforms with allowing them to invest resources in recruiting care staff and nurses, training younger people for the various careers in long-term and elderly care, and improving the homes that serve and…

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