January 2015 Newsletter
Protect Patients Now

Volume 10, Issue 1 January 2015 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

New Year, Renewed Support for Medical Liability Reform
Open and Honest
Champions for Good Samaritans

New Year, Renewed Support for Medical Liability Reform

As the 114th Congress began its work in Washington, and Governors across the country began to shape their legislative agendas, our elected officials have been mindful of medical liability reform and incorporated it into their efforts to improve our nation’s health care delivery system.

Newly elected Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke recently to a physicians’ group in New York, and “when asked about medical malpractice lawsuit reform, said the Republican leadership like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) want to make sure ‘tort reform is part of the package.’” To read more about Representative Stefanik’s speech, click here.

In West Virginia, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin incorporated the benefits of medical liability reform to the state in his State of the State address, by summarizing the consequences of a system that was failing patients and showing evidence that reasonable limits on non-economic damages turned the situation around.

“In the early 2000s, doctors were threatening to leave the state because of slow payments and unreasonable medical malpractice insurance premiums. We reformed our legal system and created the West Virginia Mutual Insurance Company, which serves as a model for states across the country, providing physicians with good coverage at reasonable rates. We accomplished these things, together,” Tomblin stated. To read his full State of the State address, click here.

And the topic of medical liability reform rose early in the legislative year in Washington, DC with key industry leaders emphasizing its importance to lawmakers during a hearing on physician reimbursement.

“Hospitals and physicians continue to face skyrocketing costs for professional liability insurance,” Richard Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said, suggesting that the system needs to be reformed.

In the hearing, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) stated that according to the Congressional Budget Office, liability reform and the resulting decrease in defensive medicine “could pay for half of this SGR fix but could also save a lot of money in other areas beyond Medicare.” To read more about the hearing, click here.

With heightened interest in medical liability reform, Protect Patients Now and the HCLA will continue to engage with elected officials in Washington and across the country to make forward progress on real, comprehensive medical liability reform.

Open and Honest

A group of Massachusetts hospitals are taking an open and honest approach to medical liability reform, developing a plan for a statewide communication, apology and resolution (CARe) system modeled after the well-known program at the University of Michigan.

The plan in Massachusetts has brought together six hospitals to share best practices and exchange information. The communication and resolution pilot program allows the hospitals to move quickly upon the discovery of a medical error, by discussing it with the patient and the patient’s family, apologizing and, if the standard of care has not been met, offering compensation.

State law ensures that physicians engaging in this type of open conversation with patients are protected from meritless lawsuits. The law requires that patients be told when medical mistakes are made that result in unexpected complications and allows providers to apologize for unanticipated outcomes without fear their words will be used against them in court.

It also contains a six-month “cooling off” period before any legal action can be taken, ensuring that facts, and not emotions, are the drivers.

While other hospital systems and states are pursuing similar pilot programs, the comprehensive nature of the initiative in Massachusetts could improve the doctor-patient relationship and reduce medical lawsuit abuse. To read more about the Massachusetts communication and resolution program, click here.

Champions for Good Samaritans

Leading health care industry associations and HCLA members sent letters to legislative champions of the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act, thanking them for their support of the bill in the past and encouraging them to re-introduce it in 2015.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have been leaders in their respective chambers of the bill that would extend liability protections to healthcare professionals who volunteer their services to victims of federally declared disasters.

An early version of the bill, developed by HCLA member PIAA, was drafted after Hurricane Katrina, following reports of physicians who were prevented from treating patients due to liability concerns. The letters noted that the bill “will ensure that disaster victims have adequate access to medical care following a catastrophic event.”

Twenty other organizations joined PIAA in signing the letter and pledging support for the bill in the 114th Congress. To read the letter to Senator Murkowski, click here. To read the letter to Congresswoman Blackburn, click here.