Medical Liability Strides, and Setbacks

An important editorial in this month’s American Medical News details the recent success medical liability reforms have had at the state level, but shows just how much more work must be done to reform a broken system that does not serve the needs of patients.

In 2011, medical liability reforms and reasonable limits on non-economic damages were upheld by courts in West Virginia and California, ensuring access to quality and affordable medical care.

But unfortunately, courts in Georgia and Illinois struck down similar laws last year, and legal battles are continuing in Missouri and Indiana.

Further increasing health care costs are the expenses physicians face in defending liability claims, which according to a recent AMA study have increased by 63 percent since 2001 to over $47,000. While two-thirds of claims were dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn without any payments to the plaintiff, physicians still paid an average of $26,851 to defend them.

And inaction on fixing our broken medical liability system has taken a much more serious toll on our health care providers. Higher rates of burnout and depression among surgeons are causing shortages of our most critical specialty physicians.

“Indeed, it is the states where reforms have been made,” states the editorial. “Yet the prospect of delivering care under a sound medical liability system should not end at the state line.” The HCLA and Protect Patients Now will continue to push to make longer strides for medical liability reform at the federal level. To read the editorial from American Medical News in full, click here.

In Cases of Emergency

A crisis has emerged over the past several years in Florida’s emergency rooms, creating physician shortages throughout the state and leaving patients in critical condition.

But this year, the Florida Medical Association has made it a priority to pass legislation that addresses the emergency room physicians’ shortage and keeps health care costs low for patients and providers.

The proposed bill would limit an emergency physician’s liability for damages to no more than $200,000 in a professional liability claim, and give true victims of negligence the ability to petition the legislature for further damages.

A spokesperson for the Florida Medical Association stated this month that specialists are stopping emergency room calls because of the liability exposure, leaving patients to suffer when they most need urgent care.

“It’s a patient protection issue, not a payment issue,” said Beth Brunner, the association’s executive director. Brunner hopes that this bill will keep the best specialty physicians practicing in Florida.

Emergency and trauma physicians must be further protected from frivolous medical liability lawsuits because of the nature of the split-second decisions they are often required to make. You can click here to learn more about the sovereign immunity bill for emergency physicians in Florida.

Reform Needed in New York

Physicians in New York are hoping to build on the medical liability momentum created last year, when Governor Cuomo included reasonable limits on non-economic damages in draft budget proposals.

While the measures were not included in final plans to rework the state’s Medicaid system, “medical liability reform will always be a major priority of the county and the state medical society,” said Brian O. Foy, executive director of the Westchester County Medical Society.

Medical liability reforms are needed in New York – and needed now. Studies suggest that passing limits on non-economic damages would have resulted in an estimated 24 percent decrease in liability premiums for physicians and hospitals throughout the state.

Medical liability reform would result in fewer physicians fleeing New York each year for greener pastures in states that have passed comprehensive medical liability reform, like California or Texas. And patients would be seeing more green themselves, in the form of lower health care costs.

You can click here to read more about the prospect of progress in New York on liability reform.

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