May 2013 Newsletter
Protect Patients Now

Volume 8, Issue 6 June 2013 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

AMA Challenges Congress to Pass Standard of Care Protection Act
New Legislation to Decrease Meritless Claims in Florida
Challenge to Liability Laws in New Mexico Threatens to Increase Costs
Changes in Pennsylvania’s Liability System Credited with Reducing Lawsuits

AMA Challenges Congress to Pass Standard of Care Protection Act

An editorial piece in American Medical News challenges Congress to follow the example of Georgia in passing a bill that ensures no provisions of federal health care law may be inappropriately used to create new threats for medical liability litigation in the United States.

“One potential loophole exists in the federal care quality and payment reform provisions authorized by the Affordable Care Act,” the editorial states. “Unfortunately, some might seek to inflate these provisions into something they were not meant to be by arguing that they establish new federal standards of care when it comes to determining medical liability in court cases.”

While this loophole has been closed in Georgia (and previously in Florida), it remains open in the other 48 states, threatening access to care and opening the door for frivolous lawsuits.

“[The bill passed in Georgia] states simply that federal care guidelines and quality criteria — whether under the ACA or another law — do not establish a legal basis for physician negligence or a standard of care to determine medical liability. Only competent expert testimony permitted in court can establish such a standard.”

Similar legislation (H.R. 1473, the Standard of Care Protection Act), supported by the HCLA and Protect Patients Now, exists on the federal level.

“Federal lawmakers also can help physicians hold the line against medical liability abuse by approving the Standard of Care Protection Act, which would accomplish the same goals as the Georgia legislation on a national scale,” the editorial concludes.

Click here to read the full editorial in support of the Standard of Care Protection Act, and here to Contact Congress and urge your Representatives to support this bill and protect access to care for all patients.

New Legislation to Decrease Meritless Claims in Florida

Faced with one of the costliest liability systems in the nation where physicians retire early or leave high-risk specialties, Florida Governor Rick Scott took action this month, signing legislation to tighten expert witness laws and ensure that meritless claims in the state come to an end.

The bill requires medical expert witnesses to be in the same specialty as defendant physicians, ensures physicians’ constitutional right to counsel, and gives parties equal access to medical fact witnesses.

“The [Florida Medical Association] is grateful to the Governor for making these critical, pro-medicine reforms the law of the land,” FMA President Vincent DeGennaro, M.D., said on behalf of the FMA’s 20,000 members. “The signing of SB 1792 represents many years of effort by the FMA to bring more fairness to Florida’s tort system.”

This legislation ensures that deserving patients will be able to more efficiently resolve their claims, while weeding out those that are unfounded. For more information about the advancements Florida is making in protecting patients from a broken liability system, click here.

Challenge to Liability Laws in New Mexico Threatens to Increase Costs

Liability reforms enacted in New Mexico in the mid-1970s are now being challenged in court, with physicians and patients facing higher costs if the law is reinterpreted.

Plaintiffs in the case are asking the New Mexico Court of Appeals to determine that the “occurrence” of an injury does not mean the presence of a single injury, but instead applies to every instance in which the injury may have been addressed. Currently, New Mexican patients have the ability to collect up to $600,000 in total damages, plus past and future health costs per “occurrence” of an injury. The health care provider is responsible for up to $200,000 of this amount (usually via medical liability insurance), while the state Patient Compensation Fund pays the remainder.

Physicians in support of the traditional definition of “occurrence” believe it is necessary to keeping medical liability insurance companies in the state and maintaining health care costs at a level that physicians and patients can afford.

In a friend of the court brief, the American Medical Association and the New Mexico Medical Society stated that if the law is overturned, it “would lead to increased health care costs and the risk that physicians go without insurance or adequate insurance, or move out of state.”

The threat of losing physicians is particularly daunting in a rural state like New Mexico, where patients face limited options for health care providers. Protect Patients Now will continue to follow the developments and support the upholding of liability reforms in the state. For more information about the challenge to New Mexico’s liability laws, click here.

Changes in Pennsylvania’s Liability System Credited with Reducing Lawsuits

While further strides can still be made in improving Pennsylvania’s medical liability climate, small steps enacted in 2003 have been credited with reducing frivolous lawsuits.

Prior to 2003, plaintiffs in Pennsylvania were able to “venue shop” – or pick jurisdictions that were more favorable to personal injury lawyers. A change in the law ensures that liability legal proceedings take place in the county where the alleged negligence took place. Another reform requires plaintiffs to obtain a certificate of merit from a medical professional before a liability claim may be filed.

Ten years later, the number of claims has dropped throughout the state – from an average of 2,733 per year between 2000 and 2003 to 1,508 in 2012, allowing patients to efficiently resolve legitimate claims and physicians to worry less about meritless lawsuits.

“These numbers continue to reinforce the value in the requirements adopted by the courts for filing medical malpractice claims in an effort to balance access and fairness in the state court system,” said Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille.

Comprehensive reforms would continue to help Pennsylvania patients, but efforts to reduce meritless lawsuits is a useful step towards fixing a system that works for neither patients nor physicians. To read more about the drop medical liability lawsuits in Pennsylvania, click here.