May 2011 Newsletter

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  • May 31, 2011
Protect Patients Now

Volume 6, Issue 5 May 2011 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

Survey Says… Americans Support Medical Liability Reform
The HEALTH Act Clears Another Hurdle
Take Action – Contact Congress in Support of the HEALTH Act
Federal Problem – Federal Solution
Picking up the Pieces

Survey Says… Americans Support Medical Liability Reform

Recent legislative action in Washington has put medical liability reform in the spotlight, but a new poll confirms this is an important issue outside the Beltway as well.

Earlier this month, the HCLA and PPN released a poll that found that 58 percent of Americans believe their representatives in Washington should vote in favor of medical liability reform, including those reforms included in the HEALTH Act, when the bill reaches the House floor in the coming months. Only 24 percent opposed such reforms.

The poll also revealed that 71 percent of those surveyed believe their access to affordable, high-quality health care is threatened because medical liability costs are forcing good doctors out of medicine. Sixty-five percent of Americans support full payment for lost wages and medical expenses and reasonable limits on awards for “pain and suffering” in order to rein in costs.

When the survey says that Americans support reforms to a liability system that currently costs too much and threatens access to medical care, Members of Congress should take notice. For more information on the poll and to read the full results, click here.

The HEALTH Act Clears Another Hurdle

If medical liability reform were a race, the HEALTH Act would have cleared another hurdle on its final stretch to the House floor this month, as the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the bill by a bipartisan vote of 30-20.

In opening remarks, Chairman Fred Upton stated, “The medical liability system in this country is not a system at all. It is a fragmented patchwork of policies that jeopardize access to care and impose added costs to the American people and their government, through Medicare and Medicaid.

“In states without reform, doctors are driven out of certain specialties: trauma centers have been forced to close and pregnant women have been forced to drive hours to find an obstetrician simply because these practice areas have greater liability risks.”

While a floor vote by the full House of Representatives is anticipated in the coming months, it’s important that your Representatives and Senators hear from you. You can visit our Contact Congress page to call, e-mail, or tweet them, and to spread the word among your friends with our Facebook badge.

HEALTH Act Reduces the Red Ink

Following the passage of the HEALTH Act by the House Energy & Commerce Committee, the Congressional Budget Office wasn’t far behind with a revised estimate on how great of an impact medical liability reform would have on reducing the red ink in our federal budget and bringing down health care costs.

The CBO last issued its cost savings estimate of the HEALTH Act after it was passed by the House Judiciary Committee in March, but because the bill as passed by the Energy & Commerce Committee would permit the introduction of evidence of income from collateral sources at trial, it would save billions of dollars more in health care costs and go even farther in preventing medical lawsuit abuse.

The new CBO report finds that the HEALTH Act would reduce federal spending by $57 billion over the 2012- 2021 period – over $17 billion more than previously reported.

Protect Patients Now and the HCLA fully support the bill as passed by the Energy & Commerce Committee, as it will have the largest deficit reduction impact and is the most comprehensive approach to preserving patient access to care. To read the full CBO cost estimate, click here.

Federal Problem – Federal Solution

The personal injury lobby has attempted to make a last ditch effort in its opposition to medical liability reform and the HEALTH Act – this time by masking themselves as conservatives concerned with federalism and the constitutionality of reform.

But don’t be fooled – a new paper titled, “The Constitutional Foundation for Federal Medical Liability Reform” released by the American Tort Reform Association finds that provisions of the HEALTH Act are consistent with the Commerce Clause, the Tenth Amendment, the guarantees of equal protection and due process, and the right to a jury trial.

While some may claim that passing federal medical liability reform legislation infringes on state’s rights, the HEALTH Act’s federal limits on noneconomic and punitive damages in medical liability claims serve as a default rule that only applies when state law would otherwise allow for unlimited damages.

States that have limits on noneconomic damages above or below the $250,000 outlined in the HEALTH Act would not be affected.

“By retaining significant flexibility for states to enact their medical liability laws, H.R. 5 respects states’ rights and federalism principles,” the report concludes. You can click here to read ATRA’s paper in full, or here for the HCLA fact sheet on medical liability reform and federalism.

Picking up the Pieces

While the costs associated with an unfounded medical liability lawsuit may be high, there is no way to measure the physical and emotional impact this has on a physician. A profile of several doctors this month by American Medical News explains how being the target of a meritless lawsuit can take its toll.

In one case, Dr. Stephen Lutz of Ohio recommended radiation therapy in a patient with a history of breast cancer who was again showing signs of cancer recurrence.
When an unrelated surgery shortly afterward showed no cancer, the patient claimed the radiation was unnecessary and sued Dr. Lutz.

The court battle continued for three years, leaving Dr. Lutz feeling anxious, helpless, and concerned about his future as a doctor. Although he was eventually found not guilty, the lawsuit changed his approach to medicine.

“It used to be a point of pride that I would take on the difficult patients. … I am far less likely to take on those challenges,” Dr. Lutz said.

When doctors are faced with meritless lawsuits, it unfortunately changes the doctor-patient relationship and the way they practice medicine – from the practice of defensive medicine, to physicians curtailing high-risk practices, to physicians retiring early – resulting in patients without the care they need, when they need it. To read more about how liability lawsuits affect the lives of physicians, click here.

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