January 2014 Newsletter
Protect Patients Now

Volume 9, Issue 1 January 2014 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

State of our Liability System
Health Care Reform Proposal by Senate Republicans Addresses Liability
SOS – Save our (Health Care) System
Business and Health Groups Merge to Advance Liability Reform

State of our Liability System

While President Obama spoke this week regarding the strong state of our union, the recently released ACEP Emergency Medicine Report card unfortunately shows that the same cannot be said for the state of our medical liability system.

The ACEP report, measuring five conditions under which emergency care is being delivered, was last released in 2009 and continues to track the medical liability climate across the country.

Overall, the ACEP Report Card gave our nation’s medical liability system a lackluster grade of C minus.

The report card stated, “The Medical Liability Environment in the United States is still in crisis and threatens to further diminish the availability of on-call specialists and other providers in states where the risks of lawsuit or costs of liability insurance are prohibitive…Since the previous Report Card, a number of states have seen liability reforms declared unconstitutional, and there are constant challenges to rules already in place in many other states.”

Four states stood out with A’s in the report – Colorado, Texas, Idaho and Kansas – and it’s no surprise that all four have enacted comprehensive medical liability reform that includes reasonable limits on non-economic damages.

The medical liability portion of the report concludes by recommending that elected officials “enact federal and state medical liability reforms that enhance timely access to quality care, particularly reforms that provide appropriate liability protections for mandated emergency care.

“Failure to enact meaningful liability reform continues to create barriers to health care access, including access to essential on-call specialists in emergencies. Additionally, meaningful reforms can help reduce unnecessary health care costs associated with the widespread practice of defensive medicine.”

To read more about the report and its recommendations for reaching a state of patient protection and affordable care, click here.

Health Care Reform Proposal by Senate Republicans Addresses Liability

Senators Tom Coburn, Richard Burr, and Orrin Hatch this week introduced a legislative blueprint for the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment Act with an aim at keeping the most effective provisions of the Affordable Care Act and ensuring that comprehensive reforms protect patients and address medical lawsuit abuse.

“Our proposal envisions adopting or incentivizing states to adopt a range of solutions to tackle the problem of junk lawsuits and defensive medicine,” the proposal reads. “One crucial opportunity for medical liability reforms is to provide innovative, results-oriented solutions that offer injured patients the opportunity to receive compensation quickly and fairly without losing their access to the traditional court systems.”

The HCLA and Protect Patients Now will follow progress of this legislation as it is introduced and works its way through Congress. While comprehensive and proven liability reforms are the key to lowering health care costs and preserving patient access to care, we welcome any forward progress by our leaders and elected officials.

To read the legislative blueprint for health care reform in full, click here.

SOS – Save our (Health Care) System

The lead author of a recent Health Affairs essay proposes that doctors and the federal government should work together to save our health care system – by implementing tort reform at the federal level.

Dr. William Sage, who previously has been highly critical of medical liability reform at any level, goes into greater detail in a separate Q&A on the hot topic of the Affordable Care Act and changes to our medical liability system that would improve our system for patients and the physicians who treat them.

Regarding his “let’s make a deal” proposal, Dr. Sage describes how compromise is key.

“Medical malpractice policy has almost always been at the state level. And here’s the [Affordable Care Act] coming in at the federal level, trying to make improvements in health insurance and health care delivery. But we think that the federal process is getting hung up on a lot of the health care delivery changes. One of the hangups is that doctors worry about liability consequences of changing what they’re doing; another is that they don’t really see anything in it for them,” Dr. Sage said.

“So the deal comes between the medical profession and the federal government, and says that the federal government could offer something that it has never offered before: federal tort reform. In exchange, they’d get much better cooperation on the part of physicians with things related to health care delivery – including the payment for health care services.”

Protect Patients Now has long focused on the comprehensive liability reforms needed to bring down costs and open up access to care, and we are pleased to see others like Dr. Sage recognizing those benefits as well. While many questions about his proposal still need to be answered, his article may open up the discussion on the need to fix a medical liability system that works for neither patients nor physicians.

You can read Dr. Sage’s essay in the latest edition of Health Affairs, or click here for a Q&A that discusses his proposals in depth.

Business and Health Groups Merge to Advance Liability Reform

Announced this month in Kentucky, a state with a failing grade on the medical liability portion of the ACEP report card, was the merger between health care and business groups with a common goal of eliminating frivolous lawsuits that make Kentucky not only bad for business – but bad for patients.

The new group, called Care First Kentucky Coalition, will take initial steps to curb medical lawsuit abuse by advocating for legislation that would create medical review panels to review proposed claims against health care providers.

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.

“Now is the time for Kentucky to say enough is enough to the meritless lawsuits which are having a huge impact on health care costs, a major concern for Kentucky businesses,” Dave Adkisson, President of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Offering support for the measure on the health care side was Dr. Fred Williams Jr., President of the Kentucky Medical Association.

“The legislation would help stabilize the state’s medical malpractice system, making Kentucky more attractive to employers and helping retain quality physicians,” said Dr. Williams.

While proven reforms, such as reasonable limits on non-economic damages, are the best way to make meaningful changes to our liability system, Protect Patients Now encourages any forward progress on reforms and will work with business and health care industry groups to find common ground on issues pertaining to patient access to care.

To read more about the attempts at alternative reforms in Kentucky, click here.