February 2014 Newsletter
Protect Patients Now

Volume 9, Issue 2 February 2014 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

Kentucky Takes Quick Steps to Curb Medical Lawsuit Abuse
Wisconsin Acts to Protect Provider Apologies
Efforts to Raise Reasonable Liability Limits Looms Large in CA
Legislative Update: Standard of Care

Kentucky Takes Quick Steps to Curb Medical Lawsuit Abuse

This legislative session, the Kentucky Legislature won’t be dancing around medical liability reform, and has already taken quick steps to move forward with legislation that supporters say will curb medical lawsuit abuse while creating an efficient and fair process for deserving patients.

A measure passed earlier this month by the state Senate would create three-member expert panels to review evidence in cases before people could take claims to court, with each side selecting one member and the two experts selecting the third expert to sit on the panel.

The panel would review initial liability claims against health care providers before they could be pursued in court, reducing meritless claims and ensuring that legitimate cases are handled efficiently.

The bill is strongly supported by the state’s Chamber of Commerce, with Chamber President Dave Adkisson testifying to a Senate committee that healthcare businesses in Kentucky can no longer ignore or afford the toll frivolous lawsuits are having on their bottom line.

“This bill is about ensuring that we have access to the best health-care providers possible in our commonwealth,” said Senator Julie Denton, the bill’s lead sponsor. “And we are going to lose them, or we are not going to be able to attract them, if we don’t address this issue.”

The bill now heads to the House for further consideration. To read more about how Kentucky is quickly moving forward on liability reforms, click here.

Wisconsin Acts to Protect Provider Apologies

Wisconsin moved one step closer to improving patient-provider communications when the Assembly approved a bill to ensure that gestures or statements of sympathy, benevolence or fault could not be used as evidence of liability in a medical liability lawsuit.

Proponents of the bill say it is necessary to ensure that patient-provider communication is open. State Rep. Erik Severson, the bill’s sponsor, said, “people want to have a true, honest conversation,” about medical outcomes.

Before coming before the full Assembly, the bill had been amended in committee so that the protections only applied to statements or gestures made before an action was filed against the healthcare provider. The amendment also allowed apologies to be discoverable.

The bill, A.B. 120, was approved by voice vote after the Assembly tabled an amendment which would have excluded admissions of fault from the liability protections. It is now pending in the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. To read more about the bill, click here.

Efforts to Raise Reasonable Liability Limits Looms Large in CA

Patients and physicians are seeing efforts on all fronts to increase California’s reasonable limits on non-economic damages that would hurt access to care and lead to higher costs throughout the state, but they may have the opportunity to personally weigh in at the ballot box later this year.

Passed in 1975, MICRA addressed skyrocketing liability insurance costs that were causing doctors to flee the state. The law limited noneconomic damages to $250,000, allowed for unlimited economic recovery, and kept attorneys’ fees in check for deserving patients.

Physicians and insurance companies say the limits have kept liability insurance rates affordable. Changing the law, they assert, could increase those rates enough to put community clinics out of business.

While a ballot initiative is the most likely outcome, a legislative proposal was introduced earlier this month that could avoid such a scenario.

Introduced by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the measure is brief and states the Legislature’s intention to “bring interested parties together to develop a legislative solution to issues surrounding medical malpractice injury compensation.”

Jim DeBoo, campaign manager for the coalition opposing the initiative, said Steinberg’s measure is “what we expected and it doesn’t alter the dynamics of the situation.”

“In the current healthcare environment, any proposal certain to cause more lawsuits, increase costs and reduce access is simply a nonstarter,” DeBoo said. “Our health system can’t afford it and the people of California don’t want it.”

The initiative’s backers must turn in signed petitions by March 24 in order to qualify for the November ballot. To read more about the ballot initiative and what is likely to be a year-long struggle to protect patient access to care, click here.

Legislative Update: Standard of Care

Earlier this month, Protect Patients Now sent you a legislative update on language related to standards of care in medical liability lawsuits which has been included in a bipartisan proposal to reform Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR).

Legislative leaders are still seeking funding solutions to fix the SGR formula, but given the bipartisan nature of the agreement to put standard of care in the bill, we will continue to push for the passage of the Standard of Care Protection Act through inclusion in appropriate legislation or as a stand-alone effort.

Review panels would have three medical experts, and would render an admissible legal opinion on whether standards of care were violated. Cases would be reviewed within six months, ensuring a timely process while protecting the plaintiff’s access to litigation.

You can click here to read our Legislative Update on the Standard of Care language within the SGR proposal, and we will continue to update our Protect Patients Now network of supporters as it makes its way through the legislative process.