Iowa Governor Prescribes Relief Through Liability Reform

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds offered patients and physicians monumental relief from the state’s challenging medical liability system by recently signing long-awaited reforms into law.

The new legislation places reasonable limits on non-economic damages that can be awarded in medical liability lawsuits, reaching a maximum of $2 million in lawsuits against hospitals and $1 million in lawsuits against clinics and individual doctors.

Without such limits, Iowa practitioners were subject to the threat of excessive jury verdicts and higher practice costs. This lack of consistency and uncertainty strained Iowa’s health care system, discouraging physicians from practicing in the state and passing on high costs to patients.

“To recruit the best and brightest, to keep these providers in Iowa, we need to have a stable practice environment,” said Kevin Kincaid, CEO of Knoxville Hospital & Clinics. “This bill is a crucial step forward in helping Iowa be a more attractive place to practice medicine.”

This significant achievement for Iowa and patients across the state better aligns the state’s liability system with neighboring states while offering a model for addressing excessive damages in medical liability cases. It strikes a balance between protecting patients’ rights and ensuring a stable and predictable legal environment for physicians and other health care providers, ultimately leading to better access to care and improved outcomes for all Iowans.

“Protecting our health care system from out-of-control verdicts promotes access to care in communities across our state and better positions us to recruit the best and brightest physicians to Iowa,” said Governor Reynolds in praise of the new legislation.

To read more about how Iowa’s new medical liability system will contribute to affordable, high-quality patient care, click here.

A Liability Crisis on New Mexico’s Horizon

While New Mexico lawmakers put a band-aid on the weak points in the state’s liability laws last year, outpatient clinics were left without a permanent fix and face an insurance crisis on the horizon come 2024.

That’s due to a fatal flaw in the legislation that, despite their lower cost of treatment, considers outpatient facilities on par with hospitals – and raises their liability limits to match.

That means that in 2024, awards in liability lawsuits against some outpatient facilities will rise from about $800,000 to $5 million. Facilities are already bracing for an inability to find coverage.

“It’s much cheaper to go to these outpatient facilities than it is to go to hospitals. It’s better care, it’s better access for New Mexicans, and yet they’re being treated as hospitals,” said Sen. Mark Moores, who, together with Sen. Martin Hickey, a physician and former CEO of Lovelace Health Systems, is introducing a bill that would block the coming increased limits on medical liability awards for independently owned outpatient health facilities.

“And that’s just not fair. We are going to lose these clinics in New Mexico unless we fix this medical malpractice issue.”

As it stands now, long waits for medical appointments are the norm and are likely to get worse if liability limits are allowed to skyrocket. A combination of few physicians, a challenging liability climate, low Medicaid reimbursement and a unique tax burden, make recruiting health care professionals to the state difficult.

While elected officials acknowledge the risk it brings to New Mexico’s health care system, the Moores-Hickey bill  still awaits its first committee hearing. Click here to read more.

Beyond Blame: The Difference Between Adverse Outcomes & Negligence

 Current litigation before the Supreme Court in Oregon highlights the importance of instructing juries that bad outcomes in medical cases are not always the result of negligence by physicians and other health care providers.

The Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies joined the Oregon Medical Association in filing an amicus brief that urges the state’s highest court to entirely reverse an appellate court ruling around jury instructions and a new avenue for bringing forward liability lawsuits.

The appellate court recently ruled that jurors would no longer hear a long-standing piece of Oregon’s Uniform Civil Jury Instruction that says that “physicians are not negligent merely because their efforts were unsuccessful” and “a physician does not guarantee a good result by undertaking to perform a service.”

In response, the amicus brief highlights that a physician’s duty includes “what medical practitioners can control — that is, their conduct and not medical results.”

If the ruling is allowed to stand, it will overturn a decades-long practice of instructing juries that physicians are not negligent merely because of the outcome.

Additionally, the appellate court ruling created a risk to physicians based on “lost chance at survival” that goes too far in creating new avenues of medical liability. The amicus brief encourages the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling because physicians would shift how they make decisions on medical treatments out of fear of being sued for not attempting a non-standard or a potentially less appropriate option.

To read more about the importance of rightfully addressing these issues in support of patients and providers in Oregon, click here.