January 2011 Newsletter

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  • January 28, 2011
Protect Patients Now

Volume 6, Issue  1 JANUARY 2011 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

HCLA/PPN Testifies on Capitol Hill
Introducing…the HEALTH Act
Stating Support for Reform
Medical Liability: Crisis on the Horizon?
Is Medical Liability Reform on Georgia Legislators’ Mind?

HCLA/PPN Testifies on Capitol Hill

The new leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives put medical liability reform in the spotlight last week, dedicating the first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee to fixing our nation’s broken liability system. The committee invited HCLA/PPN spokesperson, Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, to testify at the hearing, titled, “Medical Liability Reform- Cutting Costs, Spurring Investment, Creating Jobs.”

The timing and focus of the hearing emphasized how seriously the House of Representatives is taking medical lawsuit abuse and the practice of defensive medicine.

“There is no question that medical lawsuit abuse is undermining both our healthcare system and the doctor-patient relationship,” said Dr. Weinstein in prepared testimony.

“Medical liability has devolved from a system designed to protect patients rights and improve the quality of health care, to a system designed to reward personal injury lawyers.”

Dr. Weinstein called on the Congress to “create a climate for patient centered care by reforming the medical liability system that continues to put everyone’s health care at risk.”

The hearing on medical liability fixes puts the HCLA and Protect Patients Now in a prime position to help shape the debate that is already beginning to take place in the 112th Congress. To read Dr. Weinstein’s full testimony, click here.

Introducing…the HEALTH Act

Following last week’s hearing on medical liability reform, a bipartisan coalition re-introduced H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act. The bill includes reasonable limits on non-economic damages and makes changes to the contingency fee system that exploits patients and lines the pockets of personal injury lawyers.

Lead cosponsors of the bill are Representative Phil Gingrey, MD (R-GA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), and Representative David Scott (D-GA).

“The HEALTH Act’s proven reforms will make medical malpractice insurance affordable again, encourage health care practitioners to maintain their practices, reduce health care costs for patients, and save billions of dollars a year in federal taxpayer dollars by reducing the need for ‘defensive medicine,’” Representative Gingrey said.

The HEALTH Act has been passed by the House several times in years past – most recently in 2005. While the HEALTH Act didn’t get the attention it deserved from legislators in recent years, PPN will continue to focus on the bill as our highest legislative priority in the 112th Congress. To read more about the HEALTH Act, click here.

Stating Support for Reform

In this week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama let advocates of medical liability reform know that he hasn’t forgotten about them.

“Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down [health care] costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits,” President Obama said.

Supporters of PPN are encouraged by the President’s remarks since we know that comprehensive reforms like those enacted in states like California and Texas are the only reforms that have been proven to be effective at achieving the President’s goals of bringing down health care costs and reigning in frivolous lawsuits.

PPN and the HCLA look forward to working with the President, his administration, and the Congress to protect patients and end medical lawsuit abuse.

To read the HCLA’s press release commending President Obama for his recognition of the need for liability reform, click here.

Medical Liability: Crisis on the Horizon?

The latest edition of the Medical Liability Monitor is out, and the situation is a mixed bag of good news and bad.  While the majority of medical liability insurance rates remained the same, 14 percent of rates increased in 2010 – compared to just six percent in 2009.

“While the overall picture is positive compared to a few years ago, there was a slight uptick in premium increases in 2010 — the first in seven years,” said AMA President Cecil B. Wilson, MD. “The medical liability insurance market bears close monitoring for further signals that changes in the legal environment, including reversals of state tort reforms, could be placing pressure on insurers to raise premiums.”

Not surprisingly, the states with the most extreme increases in rates are those without limits on non-economic damages, or states where the limits were recently overturned by the personal injury lawyer lobby.

The landmark reforms passed in Texas are a model for other states nationwide – granting relief to doctors and patients alike. While a Texas OB-GYN pays $50,000 on average for liability insurance, their counterpart in Illinois pays $100,000. This comes after most of Illinois’ liability reforms were overturned, and several counties were identified as “judicial hellholes.”

California physicians still pay some of the lowest liability insurance premiums in the country, after leading the way for reform over 45 years ago. To read more about the extremes in the liability insurance market, click here.

Is Medical Liability Reform on Georgia Legislators’ Mind?

Georgia, like so many states across the country, faces a deficit nearing $1 billion this year, and many in the state are realizing that enacting proven medical liability reforms could be part of the solution to lower costs and balance the budget.

In an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kelly McCutchen of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation urged state legislators to do more than just across-the-board cuts.

Among her alternative suggestions were a push for tort reform and a reduction in the practice of defensive medicine through medical liability review boards. Unfortunately, patient access to care in Georgia was put in jeopardy in 2010 when a court struck down its reasonable limits on non-economic damages, but supporters of reform aren’t giving up just yet.

Keeping liability reform as a legislative priority will not only close Georgia’s ever-widening budget deficit, it will reduce medical lawsuit abuse and prevent an access to care crisis in an otherwise peachy state. To read more about how liability reform can prevent a looming budget crisis in Georgia, click here.

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