The year ahead for patients and physicians

Advocating for physicians in over 60 active lawsuits, the Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies has a busy year ahead in support of access to care.

Brian D. Vandenberg, senior vice president and general counsel at the American Medical Association (AMA), recently outlined the priorities for 2020 in an interview with American Medical News.

On the docket for the AMA is the rise in hybrid medical liability lawsuits. Vandenberg explains, “Hybrid liability suits attempt to disregard medical malpractice liability caps by conflating distinct legal theories—an end-run around legislative tort reform.”

Vandenberg highlights these attempts as “disingenuous” ways to overcome limits on noneconomic damages. “We’ll continue to advocate for meaningful tort reform, and will continue to challenge and file amicus briefs in abusive hybrid lawsuits.”

He also emphasized the importance of protecting the patient-physician relationship and the continued ability for open and honest discussions about health care recommendations.

When asked about what was at stake in several of their key legal priorities in 2020, Vandenberg answered, “Access and trust. It’s really that simple.”

To read the full interview on how the Litigation Center is playing a role in support of ensuring patients have access to affordable care, click here.

Legislation to limit lawsuit abuse advances in Iowa

A bill to place reasonable limits on non-economic damages and reduce medical lawsuit abuse in Iowa has moved forward with the support of key State Senators.

In recent years, Iowa patients have seen access to care in rural areas and among those deemed high-risk erode, as physicians have relocated elsewhere.

The legislation under review would eliminate a jury’s ability to award more than $250,000 for subjective “pain and suffering” while maintaining full compensation for medical bills and other economic damages.

Dr. Tiffani Milless of Iowa Pathology Associates shared her story about increasing premiums and the higher coverage required to protect her from the tough liability climate.

“You can never repay someone financially for a life but the worst thing is that then we change the access to care for our whole state, we bankrupt our state, we take away access to care for all the other babies, children and people in the future that need access to caring doctors and nurses,” Milless said.

Matt McKinney with the Iowa Health Access Coalition cited awards that have nearly doubled in the past four years. “Those very large damages are having a very large impact on our health-care community,” he said.

To read more about the legislation and the need to address sky-high liability awards in Iowa, Click here.

Debate on Pennsylvania venue rule returns

Following a year of studying the effect repealing Pennsylvania’s liability lawsuit venue rule would have on filing locations and jury awards, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee issued a report that has advocates of reform feeling uncertain about the future.

At issue is a rule that requires plaintiffs to file liability lawsuits in the county where the alleged negligence occurred.

Eliminating the rule would mean that plaintiffs could file anywhere the defendant resides or regularly conducts business, increasing the likelihood that plaintiffs would do so in Philadelphia – where health care professionals would face decidedly unfriendly juries.

Before the venue rule was enacted in 2003, liability lawsuits in Philadelphia County were filed at double the national median. Awards in the state were higher than any neighboring state and nearly one-third above the national average.

The rule has since forced lawsuits to be filed and decided on in their home county, reducing those in Philadelphia by two-thirds and reducing awards in the state by nearly 14 percent.

Much to the agreement of those practicing in the state, the report did cite the risk that venue rule changes could pose to the professional liability insurance market.

While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could take action at any time, the road ahead likely includes another round of public hearings and comments before the court weighs in.

Click here to read more about the debate on Pennsylvania’s liability lawsuit venue rule.

Texas patients have more physician options than ever

Data from the last decade has shown the impact that landmark liability reforms have had on the physician population of Texas – and the ability to serve patients in the growing state.

From 2010 until 2020, the number of physicians increased every year, thanks to comprehensive liability laws enacted in 2003 that continued to pay dividends even a decade later. These reforms were instrumental in recruiting physicians back to a state that many once deserted.

Dr. Stanley Wang, a cardiologist and sleep medicine specialist at Austin Heart, returned to Texas, the state where he went to medical school, after reforms were put in place.

“Medical liability was a big problem and the relief of it was a big attraction when I looked at where to go,” Wang said.

The physician-patient ratio has now reached 190 physician providers per 100,000 Texas residents.

“Our success at improving access for our patients is evidenced by the fact that three in four physicians licensed by Texas are from outside the state,” said Dr. David Fleeger, president of Texas Medical Association. “To sustain the improving physician-to-patient ratio, we must continue to advocate to protect that reform.”

To read more about Texas’ success in recruiting physicians to its favorable liability climate, click here.