No false alarm on medical liability issues

Responding to a Washington Post article earlier this month that charged advocates of medical liability reform with unnecessarily sounding the alarms on the need for fixes, the HCLA submitted a letter to the editor outlining the burden of the current system and urging passage of proposed patient protection measures.

Our nation’s medical liability system is costly and inefficient – with bright spots in states that have proactively addressed the problems.

“States like California and Texas have been successful in compensating patients fairly, controlling costs, and increasing access,” the letter explains. “Thirteen years after passing reforms in Texas, 118 counties saw net gains in emergency room physicians – including 53 counties that previously had none.”

The letter cites figures that show how replicating those efforts would have an exponential effect on our federal health care costs: “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that $55 billion in federal health savings and $62 billion in deficit reductions could be achieved over 10 years, if the federal government passed reforms like those in California and Texas.”

“Lawmakers, policy experts, and the public agree reform is needed. When 75% of claims are meritless, and 33% of the money intended for deserving patients goes to personal injury lawyers, it isn’t a false alarm,” the letter states. “It’s fair warning that without reform, the medical liability system benefits lawyers – not patients.”

To read the entirety of HCLA’s letter to the editor of the Washington Post, click here.

Game on for sports medicine providers

Scoring its second recent win for patients was the Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act (H.R. 302), passed by the House earlier this month after similar approval in late 2016.

The bill ensures athletic trainers and physicians providing health care services to professional and amateur teams outside of their home state, know that their liability coverage travels with them.

Strongly supporting the bill was HCLA member, the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

“By preserving sports medicine professionals’ access to their medical liability insurance coverage when they travel with athletic teams, we ensure these providers do not have to choose between either treating injured athletes at great professional risk, or reducing athletes’ access to timely health care services,” stated Gerald R. Williams, Jr., MD, President of AAOS. “The AAOS is committed to preserving continuity of care for all patients and providing adequate protection for sports medicine professionals. We commend the House for approving this bill and we urge the Senate to do the same.”

The bill also won the support of the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), in addition to the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAA, and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committees.

To read more about the Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act and the bipartisan effort to protect athletes’ access to care, click here.

Leading off with liability reform

As state legislatures, Congress, and medical organizations set their 2017 priorities, many are leading off with liability reform and putting patient protection efforts at the top of their agendas.

Writing to his former colleagues in Congress, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who served as a Senator and Governor, called medical liability reform one of the “five easy pieces” of the puzzle that should be put together by elected officials in Washington and urged them to move “quickly and early.”

“The Congress could even follow a template set out by the state of California a generation ago,” Gregg writes. “It would mean that doctors and hospitals would not have to constantly order unnecessary tests and procedures just to protect themselves from scurrilous lawyers… Costs would go down and patients would receive the care they need, not the care dictated by fear of inappropriate lawsuits.”

Among many groups likely to energize around Gregg’s recommendations is the American College of Emergency Physicians, working to ensure that replacement efforts surrounding the Affordable Care Act maintain patient access to critical care.

Listed in their key principles for policymakers was “enact[ing] meaningful medical liability reforms, including protections for physicians who provide federally-mandated EMTALA-related services, care for patients in a federally declared disaster area and who follow clinical guidelines established by national medical specialty societies.”

And in addition to these strong efforts at the federal level, individual states are still in pursuit of opening access to care and reducing medical lawsuit abuse.
Missouri, recently named a “judicial hellhole,” has a chance to shed that moniker through tort reform efforts related to collateral source reform.

“Plaintiffs can make money bringing suits for injuries that may already be covered by other sources or claim phantom damages – a cost they never incurred,” said Brian Bunten, general counsel of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said recently at the bill’s hearing. “Our courts were intended to be a place where injured parties go to be made whole for real losses. Allowing people to use inflated damages to collect a windfall on an injury is unfair and unjust.”