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Attack of the Trial Lawyers
What sounds like a bad movie is actually the title of an editorial this month in the Baltimore Sun that details attempts by personal injury lawyers to roll back Maryland’s laws to stop medical lawsuit abuse.
Just five years ago, the medical liability crisis in Maryland was driving doctors out of state and out of business, and limiting patients’ access to care – particularly in rural areas. In 2004, the Maryland General Assembly approved a package of reforms that included reasonable limits on non-economic damages.
A current bill under consideration would raise the cap on non-economic damages and unfortunately for Maryland patients and physicians, it’s gaining support.
The editorial states that “just because medical malpractice insurance rates have stabilized – and even gone down a bit for many doctors – doesn’t mean it’s time for Maryland to roll back hard-fought caps on noneconomic damages.” And that’s exactly right. Rolling back reforms will quickly reverse the situation, and leave Maryland doctors and patients back in the precarious position they found themselves in prior to 2004. To read the editorial, click here.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Anyone who is still skeptical about whether medical liability reform works should take a hard look at the successes that Texas and Ohio have seen in recent years.
Prior to 2003, Texas faced a serious shortage of emergency physicians due to medical lawsuit abuse and the overwhelming number of lawsuits without merit. Patients in rural and metropolitan areas alike lacked the access to emergency care that is desperately needed.
Texas voters passed medical liability reforms in 2003. In an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News, Dr. Robert D. Greenberg , vice chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine and director of the Prehospital Medicine Division at Scott & White Healthcare writes: “Five years later, the results are in and the reforms’ success is indisputable: Texas has experienced a dramatic increase in board-certified emergency physicians treating patients statewide.”
To read Dr. Greenberg’s op-ed, click click here.
Data released by the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Office of Rural Community Affairs, the Texas Medical Board, and the Texas Alliance for Patient Access confirms this significant increase in board-certified emergency physicians in Texas. Recently, supporters held a press conference at the state capitol to announce the good news.
Seventy-six counties have experienced a net gain in emergency physicians since the passage of medical liability reforms five years ago, including 39 medically underserved counties and 30 counties that are partially medically underserved.
If that wasn’t enough to silence personal injury lawyers and other critics, Ohio has also seen dramatic results from medical liability reforms enacted in that state five years ago. Medical liability claims and insurance rates for physicians have fallen again, according to a new report released by the Ohio Department of Insurance. The Ohio State Medical Association called another year of declining cases more evidence that the tort reform legislation is working to stabilize the state’s medical liability market. Claims in 2007 were down 14 percent from 2006, a year that saw claims drop more than 20 percent from 2005. Click here to read more about how liability reform in Ohio is helping doctors and patients.
Judicial Impropriety? You Decide.
In Wisconsin, where state Supreme Court justices are elected to 10 year terms, the Chief Justice has accepted campaign donations totaling $11,500 from personal injury lawyers with major medical liability cases pending before her court.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has not disclosed the donations from members of the firm to parties in the case or recused herself from the pending case. Lawyers with cases pending before the seven-member court have donated more than $30,000 to Abrahamson’s campaign since August, according to a review by The Associated Press.
Abrahamson wrote a 4-3 decision in 2005 that struck down a Wisconsin state law placing reasonable limits on non-economic damages in medical liability lawsuits. We can only wonder if the thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from personal injury lawyers played a part in her decision. To read more, click here.
Earlier this month in Hawaii, physicians and patients testified in front of lawmakers about the medical liability reform bill pending in the state legislature.
Dr. Linda Rasmussen, an orthopaedic surgeon, told lawmakers that “every day there are people that are suffering due to lack of access to care. I’m writing for high blood pressure medications because we do not have internists in Kailua.”
The House health committee approved the bill that places reasonable limits on non-economic damages, but the measure only applies to doctors in five specialties. The measure now heads to the judiciary committee, and supporters hope that quick consideration of the bill will reverse the tide of doctors fleeing the state. Click here to find out more about the access to care crisis in Hawaii.