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Landmark Reform Law Again Under the Microscope
Nearly 40 years after California passed MICRA, the landmark medical liability reform, which helped stem the tide of physicians leaving the state, the personal injury lawyer lobby continues to push lawmakers to overhaul the law that is credited with preserving access to care.
MICRA guarantees unlimited recovery for economic damages and places reasonable limits of $250,000 for non-economic damages (pain and suffering). California personal injury lawyers have aggressively fought this year for to increase damages for non-economic damages to $1.1 million with further increases each year, and just this week have filed paperwork to force a ballot initiative in 2014.
Physicians, hospitals, and businesses have come out strongly in support of the current patient-centered law that already allows for unlimited compensation of medical bills and lost wages for patients with liability claims with merit.
MICRA further protects patients by limiting the amount of fees lawyers can take for representing patients – allowing more money to go to the individual for medical care and living expenses.
“The trial lawyer-sponsored changes to MICRA are going to make it easier for them to file meritless lawsuits to augment their fees, which will raise health care costs without doing anything to increase quality,” said Dr. Paul Phinney, president of the California Medical Association.
In a separate opinion piece, Dr. Phinney and Jonathan Porteus of WellSpace Health remind us all of the dire situation prior to the passage of MICRA –
“Before MICRA, California was in crisis. Doctors and other providers couldn’t afford medical liability insurance because frivolous lawsuits were rampant, driving up costs for all providers. Doctors were moving out of state, going without insurance or closing their doors. Patients had a harder and harder time getting timely access to much needed health care.”
This scenario is likely to be played out again if personal injury lawyers are successful. But with much to gain financially, they are relentless in their pursuit of six-figure verdicts.
“In short, MICRA ensures that patients are fairly compensated, not the trial lawyers,” write Phinney and Porteus. “When patients suffer, they should get compensated. Not lawyers.”
Click here to read more about how California trial lawyers are continuing to push for an overhaul of MICRA and its patient protection provisions, and here for the op-ed on how increasing limits on economic damages will lead to increased health care costs for California patients.
Lawyers Quick to Pull the Trigger on Challenges to Liability Laws
The ink was barely dry on medical liability reform legislation passed in Florida when personal injury lawyers filed five lawsuits against a bill that will further eliminate meritless liability claims.
The law, which went into effect on July 1, allows physicians named in a liability lawsuit to speak with other physicians involved in the care of the patient seeking damages and requires expert witnesses who testify in medical liability cases to practice in the same specialty as defendant doctors.
Supporters of the law note that subsequent treating physicians can be crucial in a medical professional liability action, and that prior to this recent enactment, the defense did not have access to such witnesses. The law, they say, simply levels the playing field. Those filing suit against the law claim it will lead to the disclosure of sensitive health information about the plaintiff, and potentially deter open communications between a patient and healthcare provider.
The Florida Medical Association, a strong supporter of the law, has said it will aggressively defend the law against the challenges.
The state-by-state challenges by personal injury lawyers further underscore the need for comprehensive, constitutional medical liability reform at the federal level that is based on reforms that have been proven to protect patients and reduce health care costs for all. To read more about the challenges to medical liability laws in Florida and Mississippi, click here.
Survey of Physicians Fully Examines Medical Liability Landscape
Horrible. One of the worst experiences of their life. Disruptive and humiliating. That’s how doctors in a recent widespread survey of the medical liability landscape have described feeling when faced with an unexpected lawsuit after providing appropriate medical care.
The survey of 3500 physicians by Medscape found that nearly 40 percent of them had been named defendants in a lawsuit – and most never saw it coming. Of those physicians who reported being sued, three-quarters were surprised by the lawsuit, and 59 percent of them said that there was no “trigger incident” to lead them to believe a liability lawsuit would be filed.
And the survey ruled out the notion that simply being named in a liability lawsuit is an indication a physician is at fault, with nearly 57 percent of lawsuits resulting in no monetary award or settlement. Despite the significant rate of victory for physicians, these cases can still be quite costly, with a third of plaintiffs receiving up to $500,000 and another 11 percent receiving more than $1 million. Dr. Richard Anderson, Chairman and CEO of The Doctors Company, confirmed that while “the average cost of claims has been steadily increasing for years… the number of million-dollar cases has tripled over the past few years.”
Time spent in the courtroom, away from the exam room, was noted as a key concern for many physicians who reported that 78 percent of claims took over a year to resolve – at the expense of providing patient care. About a third of physicians said they spent more than 40 hours preparing for their defense before the trial, including securing and reviewing records and medical articles, preparing for depositions, and having discussions with their insurer and attorneys, as well as an additional 40 hours in court and trial related meetings.
Until comprehensive medical liability reform is enacted at the federal level to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and work more efficiently for those with legitimate claims, doctors will spend more time examining legal documents than they will patients. Click here to read the Medscape survey, and here to watch a slideshow of the results.