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Protect Patients Now

Volume 3, Issue 2 FEBRUARY 2008 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

New Medical Liability Reform Legislation Sent to Congress

On February 15, President Bush sent legislation to the US Congress, under the Medicare Modernization Act, that would reduce overall spending in the Medicare program. The legislation includes medical liability reform provisions, including reasonable limits on non-economic damages.

According to federal law, the administration is required to submit remedies if more than 45% of Medicare spending is derived from general revenues for two years in a row. As such is the case, the White House has submitted legislation that would implement the President’s medical liability reform agenda as one element in a three-part plan to lower costs. In his letter to Nancy Pelosi and Dick Cheney (in his role as President of the Senate), HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt points out that our “courts are littered with junk lawsuits” and that the current system encourages defensive medicine, “which raises the costs of Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs, and other Federal health-care programs by an estimated $28 billion per year (and national health care costs by $60-100 billion).”

To read Secretary Leavitt’s letters to Congress, click here. To read a copy of the proposed legislation, click here.

Personal Injury Lawyers Never Sleep (Unfortunately)

Protect Patients Now is working hard to end the patient access to care crisis in states across the country. Unfortunately, personal injury lawyers are working just as hard to make sure they maintain the status quo – through an unremitting legal and legislative assault on state reforms that have already been enacted.

Texas: As PPN newsletter readers well know, Texas has become the new model for reform. The dramatic turn around after Texas voters passed Proposition 12’s constitutional amendment allowing for reasonable limits on non-economic damages has produced a glut of doctors applying for licenses, physicians moving into here-to-fore underserved communities, and (this is especially sweet) personal injury lawyers closing up shop or being forced to troll for clients in neighboring Oklahoma. To read PPN’s fact sheet Texas: A Miracle in the Making, click here.

Naturally, personal injury lawyers aren’t too happy with these developments, so one of their number has brought a case in Texas court hoping for a ruling that Texas’ limits on non-economic damages is unconstitutional. That such a legal argument is possible despite Prop. 12, which is a constitutional amendment that was designed to assure the legality of their limits, is just one more demonstration that reform will never be safe until passed at the Federal level. The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, and the Texas Hospital Association have all gone to court to support the law’s constitutionality. To read more about the Texas suit, click here.

Kansas: At a time when liability claims against hospitals in Kansas have reached an eight-year low due to intensive patient safety efforts, personal injury lawyer Jim Bartimus has filed a case challenging the state’s $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, proclaiming that “the pendulum is swinging back” – “a shift that could lead to more and larger” awards, according to the Kansas City Business Journal. To read more about the Kansas case, click here.

New Study Finds Medical Liability Reform Works

This month, the American Medical Association released a new analysis of independent research showing that reasonable limits on non-economic damages are “effective, lowering medical liability premiums, resulting in an increased supply of physicians to care for patients.” The new report, “The Impact of Liability Pressure and Caps on Damages on the Healthcare Market: an Update of Recent Literature,” shows that limits on non-economic damages are associated with lower premium levels of at least 17 percent and that limiting non-economic damages to $250,000 in states that presently do not have effective reforms would result in premium savings of $1.4 billion. To read the full report, click here.

Hawaii Update

Unfortunately for Hawaii patients, Hawaii’s Senate Health Committee decided not to move forward a medical liability reform bill designed to help end the patient access to care crisis in that state and bring doctors back to Neighbor Islands and other rural areas. According to Paula Arcena, executive director of the Hawaii Medical Association, “there are bills in the House that are alive and the Senate will have another opportunity to look at them.”

Protect Patients Now will continue to follow this important effort to end medical lawsuit abuse. For more on this news story, click here, and for more reporting on the crisis in Hawaii, click here.

Good News from Ohio

Ending on a positive note, a recent editorial in the Columbus Dispatch cited medical liability reforms enacted in 2003 as the reason the number of medical liability lawsuits filed has dropped by 20%. In addition, medical liability insurance costs, which were skyrocketing before reform, are now leveling off. “Certainty and stability in the medical-insurance field are healthy moves for states and their residents,” according to the editorial. To read the complete story, click here.

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