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House Hearings on Medical Liability
The House Subcommittee on Health held hearings July 13 on “Innovative Solutions to Medical Liability.” On the plus side, an overwhelming consensus emerged that our nation is indeed suffering from a medical liability crisis that is raising insurance premiums, driving good doctors out of medicine, and undermining quality health care in America.
Unfortunately, advocates for the one proven solution – reasonable caps on non-economic damages – were not included on the roster of witnesses, who instead recommended pilot health court programs, voluntary “early offer,” and alternative dispute resolution. Thankfully, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) pointed to the efficacy of non-economic caps in their own states.
As Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, Chairman of DMLR said (click here to listen to his radio news release), pilot programs and innovative solutions are fine, but we have a crisis now and need reforms that will begin healing our system now, not years in the future.
Check Out PPN’s “Recent News”
With all the action in Congress, medical liability reform has recently been making national news, but it’s also making headlines in states across America. Check the Protect Patients Now website here for a compendium of recent news by state for both encouraging, and disquieting trends in the medical liability crisis.
New Study: Defensive Medicine Costs Billions
Billions of dollars are being squandered on unnecessary medical tests, much of it defensive medicine costs brought on by medical liability fears, according to a new study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University found that unwarranted tests cost many millions and, when false positives are considered, the total costs, including follow-up exams, soon mount to a billion dollars or more each year. And these costs do not account for the needless anxiety patients suffer, the time off from work, and possible complications that result from the follow-up tests.
You can read a press release on the report here and an abstract here.
Crisis in Emergency Surgical Care
Augmenting recent IOM reports on the state of emergency medicine, a new comprehensive report by the American College of Surgeons (FACS) highlights the role of the medical liability crisis in driving surgeons out of the ER.
According to surveys conducted by the FACS and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons, more than one-third of respondents had been sued by patients who were first seen in the hospital emergency department. As liability premium hikes outpace payments, some surgeons can no longer afford the increased liability risk for a largely uninsured patient population, and younger surgeons, who often take on-call shifts at trauma centers, are fleeing liability crisis states. You can read a PDF of the report here.
AJPH: Caps Lower Health Care Costs
A new study appearing in the August issue of American Journal of Public Health demonstrates that states with laws limiting medical liability payments have lower health care expenditures (click here for an abstract). This follows the authors’ 2003 study, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which found that states adopting caps experienced a more rapid increase in the supply of physicians (click here for the full report.)
Personal View: A Patient Turned Activist
When Kim Carter was testifying before the Maryland legislature in Annapolis, they kept ringing the bell to indicate that her time was up.
“At first I thought someone’s cell phone was going off,” says Kim, a mother of two, “but when I realized what it was, I decided to keep going. What I had to say was just too important.”
Kim has been on a mission to reform medical liability law ever since she received a letter from her OB/GYN, Dr. Carol Ritter. After much soul searching, Dr. Ritter wrote, she had decided to discontinue her obstetrics practice, as mounting insurance rates had made it simply unaffordable. Her last day, the letter informed her patients, was to be January first of the next year – two weeks before Kim’s second child was due.
“Carol had delivered my first son,” Kim says. “I couldn’t imagine her not being there for the birth of my second, Ryan.”
As it turns out, Kim went into labor two weeks early, on December 30, and Carol, whose practice was due to terminate some 24 hours later, rushed to the hospital to deliver Ryan – the last baby she would deliver in the U.S.
“My mother was there,” says Kim, “and she told me that the whole time Carol was stitching me back up from the episiotomy, her eyes were filled with tears.”
“This was midnight,” Kim continues. “I came to the next day. You can’t go through an experience like that without bonding in special way. I told her then that I’d stand by her until this liability crisis was solved.”
And she has, testifying three times before the Annapolis legislature, speaking on the radio, traveling to hospitals and universities up and down the eastern seaboard, often together with Doctor Ritter. Kim also appeared in the documentary, “If the Bough Breaks.”
“Because of the crisis, doctors don’t have the time to get out there and fight as much as they might like to. So I’ve realized that even with two small children, I just have to do what I have to do. I never turn down a speaking invitation, because you never know who will be there and who you’re going to reach.”
The bond of caring these two women formed represents what medicine is all about – and what all of us are fighting so hard to preserve.