Protect Patients Now

Volume 4, Issue 5 MAY 2009 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

Sooner, Rather Than Later
Liability Reform Leverage
Crisis in PA Far From Over
Reform Relapse in Arkansas

Sooner, Rather Than Later

Oklahoma’s moniker as the Sooner State may now take on a different meaning – passing medical liability reform sooner, rather than later.

Under the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act that overwhelmingly passed the Oklahoma House and Senate and was signed by Governor Brad Henry, reasonable limits on non-economic damages cannot exceed $400,000. The bill also protects doctors and preserves access to care for patients in Oklahoma by reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits brought on by trial lawyers and requiring a certified expert to testify in medical liability cases.

According to an Oklahoma House of Representatives statement, 70% of medical liability claims were dismissed between 2004 and 2007, but Oklahoma’s major physician insurance company spent $50 million defending those cases.

As we have seen in other states, these reforms should have an immediate impact on keeping doctors practicing in Oklahoma – instead of fleeing across the Red River to friendlier liability climates in Texas. Oklahomans will have access to the care they need, when they need it. It is a win for patients and doctors alike, and big step in reducing health care costs. To read more about the medical liability reforms passed in Oklahoma, click here.

Liability Reform Leverage

This month, leading health industry groups met with President Obama and proposed to cut $2 trillion in health care costs over the next ten years – with the intention that some of that savings will come from enacting federal liability reforms. With the Obama administration needing cooperation from doctors to drive down health costs, the physicians’ groups may have leverage to secure enhanced liability protections. Physicians emphasized the costly practice of defensive medicine, and the likelihood of meeting the $2 trillion savings goal by including medical liability reforms in any comprehensive health care reform considered by Congress.

“As we mentioned to the president, if we can have additional liability protection … then we can achieve even more spending curbs and a reduction in cost,” said J. James Rohack, MD, President-elect of the American Medical Association and a Temple cardiologist, after meeting with President Obama earlier this month.

Protect Patients Now will be sure to keep the pressure on to include medical liability reform in further negotiations on health care reform. This is a unique opportunity to stop medical lawsuit abuse and protect patients now. To read more about the progress being made on health care reform, click here.

Crisis in PA Far From Over

Governor Rendell is calling it a win for Pennsylvania patients, and claiming that the medical liability lawsuit abuse crisis is over – but that’s far from the truth. In reality, claims only decreased a meager 3% in 2008 from 2007. Most frightening is the fact that since 2002, more than half of Pennsylvania’s 25,000 doctors have been sued. The Pennsylvania Medical Board, an agency of state government, found that only a fraction of all malpractice cases merit any action – an obvious indication that medical liability lawsuit abuse exists in Pennsylvania.

Nearly 40 Pennsylvania hospitals, maternity units and other major medical facilities throughout Pennsylvania have closed in just more than a decade, most under Governor Rendell’s watch. This is a crisis that’s far from over, and will likely only get worse for Pennsylvania patients seeking medical care. To read more about Pennsylvania’s access to care crisis, click here.

Reform Relapse in Arkansas

Since 2003, when liability reforms were passed, Arkansas has seen a 50% drop in liability case filings, leading to an influx of new insurers and a reduction in doctors’ liability premiums. Unfortunately, the state Supreme Court has sided with the trial lawyers in a new ruling, and the successful liability reforms are on the verge of a life-threatening relapse.

Justices unanimously found unconstitutional a provision of the 2003 law that requires plaintiffs in liability cases to present to the court evidence related to medical costs paid for by other parties – such as health insurers – as well as any unpaid expenses.

David Wroten, Executive Vice President of the Arkansas Medical Society, said that the reform measures were critical to helping keep jury verdicts reasonable, in turn containing doctors’ medical liability costs and maintaining access to care.

“This can only have a cumulative effect” on the medical liability climate, Wroten said. The rulings could make it difficult to pass additional reforms or signal a threat to other existing measures, he noted.

Personal injury lawyers want nothing more than liability reforms to die a slow death – but Protect Patients Now is not giving up. To read more about the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling, click here.

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