Protect Patients Now

Volume 1, Issue 8 December Newsletter


Special points of interest:

An Interview with Dr. Troy Tippet: Florida Neurosurgeon
Health Courts Alone Can’t Solve Crisis
“Lawyers on the Howl”
AMA President Calls Liability Rates “Obscene”
 • DMLR Spokesman Weighs In On Reform Alternatives

An Interview with Dr. Troy Tippett: Florida Neurosurgeon

We recently sat down with Dr. Troy Tippett, a Florida neurosurgeon and past president of the Florida Medical Association, to talk about the worsening liability crisis in Florida. “The first thing to understand,” Dr. Tippett explains, “is that the reforms that the politicians are so proud of simply aren’t working, primarily because the so-called cap is too high – it’s $500,000 – and has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese. It’s easy to push it up to $1 million, and a million dollar cap does nothing to reduce insurance premiums.”

How bad are premiums? “I pay $80,000 a year for $250,000 worth of coverage. Which is close to absurd. If it goes up to $100,000, I won’t be able to afford it,” says Dr. Tippett.

One glimmer of hope comes from the constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters that limits trial lawyer contingency fees. “FPIC, the largest insurance carrier in the state, thinks that the law is working to help hold fees from rising even higher and has actually resulted in the break up of some of the larger personal injury firms. That seems to be true in spite of a ruling by the lawyer-friendly Florida Supreme Court saying that personal injury attorneys may ask their clients to sign waivers obviating this law. Apparently, however, it still makes life difficult for the trial lawyers. Clearly, they hate it.”

At the same time, a vindictive measure put forward by the personal injury attorneys that opens up the peer review process in hospitals to public scrutiny will soon also be appealed to the State Supreme Court. If the high court decides in favor of the plaintiff attorneys again, “the peer review process will be destroyed. It will be impossible for doctors to participate in the process any longer, and it is patient safety that will suffer.”

Dr. Tippett concludes, “All in all, Florida is a poster child for the need for national reform. Because if things continue to go like this, we will be the medical liability equivalent of a nuclear blast zone.”

 Health Courts Alone Can’t Solve Crisis

Those hoping that health courts by themselves can solve the medical liability crisis will not get much encouragement from Wyoming’s recent experience. In the year and a half since voter-approved medical review panels have taken effect, the majority of cases have been “waived” by both parties. Of the three cases that went before the panel, all three proceeded to court anyway, despite the panel’s recommendation that only one had merit. Meanwhile, according to Susie Pouliot, executive director of the Wyoming Medical Society, medical liability premiums continue to rise. In 2005, annual premiums for the Doctor’s Company, one of two major insurers in the state, increased from $87,527 to $93,912 for Wyoming OB/GYNs. You can read the full story here.

“Lawyers on the Howl”

A recent article in the Journal of the American Bar Association paints a distressing picture of the effects of medical liability reform – distressing, that is, if you happen to be a personal injury lawyer. For the rest of us, it’s reason to rejoice.

Apparently, medical liability reform in Texas has thrown whole practices into disarray. Firms are breaking up, and lawyers that used to make a killing suing doctors are now being forced to leave the state and even find new jobs!

In a Protect Patients Now web op-ed, DMLR Chairman Stuart L. Weinstein, M.D. calls attention to the ABA’s “unintentionally revealing” description of the way liability law used to be practiced in Texas, which he compares to “fishing with dynamite.” To read the full article, click here.

AMA President Calls Liability Rates “Obscene”

You may have heard personal injury lawyers claiming that the medical liability crisis is over because insurance rates are stabilizing. In some states, premiums are indeed stabilizing – at near record high levels!

“There’s no question there may be some stabilization, but it’s at an obscene rate,” says AMA President William G. Plested. For example, some Florida general surgeons and OB/GYNs have seen large rate decreases recently – but even so, they’re still paying some of the highest rates in the country. So you could say that we’ve stabilized in a state of crisis.

Read the AMNews full report here.

DMLR Spokesman Weighs In On Reform Alternatives

In a recent AMNews article discussing the future of reform with a new Democrat-controlled Congress, doctors stressed that, while alternative reform measures are worth exploring, there is no substitute for reasonable limits on non-economic damage awards.

Health courts and patient safety measures are “a good first step,” says our very own David Lovett, a spokesman for Doctors for Medical Liability Reform and Director of Government Relations of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, “but you’re not getting at the root of the problem.”

Cecil B. Wilson, M.D., chair of the AMA Board of Trustees, agrees: “Caps are difficult, regardless of who is in power, but just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s not important, and it been the only thing we’ve see truly work.” For the full article, click here.