Protect Patients Now

Volume 7, Issue 10 October 2012 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

Election 2012: HCLA Supports Friends of Liability Reform
Desperately Seeking Solutions – for Patients
Small Reductions in Liability Premiums a Welcome Treat, but Physicians and Patients Remain Spooked
Liability News in Brief

Election 2012: HCLA Supports Friends of Liability Reform


Medical liability reform legislation saw the light of day in the House of Representatives this year, but has yet to move forward for consideration by the Senate. That’s why it is critical that candidates who support medical liability reform are elected to both houses of Congress so that we can pass a bill that lowers health care costs, increases access to quality medical care, and helps with deficit reduction efforts.

This year, the HCLA has supported candidates from both parties that have been friends of mpedical liability reform and will champion this issue in Washington.

The HCLA is running radio ads in support of Congressman Jim Matheson (D-UT), Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), and Senate candidates Rick Berg (R-ND) and Denny Rehberg (R-MT).

“Heller also supports reforming our broken medical liability system that is driving up health care costs for patients, forcing good doctors out of medicine, while making trial lawyers rich,” states the ad running in support of Senator Heller throughout Nevada.

Another ad in support of Jim Matheson, Democrat from Utah, details his pragmatic approach to solving the medical liability crisis.

“Take medical lawsuit abuse. Jim Matheson is a leader in the fight for common sense reform that will improve access to health care while lowering costs,” the ad states.

The HCLA and Protect Patients Now will continue to support our friends and allies in Washington who are working to make health care affordable and accessible to all, and urges our members to support candidates this Election Day who will fight to do the same.

Desperately Seeking Solutions – for Patients


Three Republican Senators concerned about how grants for medical liability reform demonstration projects were spent continue to press the Department of Health and Human Services for answers – only to receive less than adequate responses.

Senators Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, originally wrote to Secretary Sebelius back in April of 2012 regarding how a $23.2 million grant intended to improve the medical liability system by protecting patients and access to care, was spent.

The letter focused on lawmakers’ concerns that the grant money was not being used for “traditional” medical liability reforms when President Obama “gave the clear impression” that funding would be used for that purpose in a 2009 speech.

When the Senators received a response nearly six months later, their questions went unanswered. So this month, they sent a second inquiry.

“We were concerned that these developments did not fulfill the president’s commitment to move forward on medical malpractice reform,” the lawmakers said in their most recent letter, dated October 16.

While “traditional” medical liability reforms are aimed at decreasing “the incidence of frivolous lawsuits, inflated awards and inflated attorneys’ fees,” the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s description of the research funded by the grants does not reference changes to medical liability laws, the Senators maintained.

Proven medical liability reforms, as these Members of Congress and many of their colleagues on both sides of the aisle support, have greatly expanded access to care in states like Mississippi, Texas and California by increasing the number of physicians, lowering health care costs, and expediting claims of deserving patients.

To read the letters sent by Senators Grassley and Hatch and Congressman Smith to the Department of Health and Human Services, click here.

Small Reductions in Liability Premiums a Welcome Treat, but Physicians and Patients Remain Spooked

While medical liability insurance rates have decreased slightly for the third year in a row, physicians and their patients have reason to remain spooked about the overall liability climate and access to affordable care in the future.

Nearly 60 percent of premiums nationwide held steady in 2012, and about 26 percent decreased, according to the Medical Liability Monitor Annual Rate Survey. Fifteen percent of premiums increased.

Overall, rates fell 1.7 percent in 2012. In the previous two years, they dipped 0.5 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, the October report said, but this follows a sharp spike upward in the years prior.

The American Medical Association, a member of the HCLA, believes that costs are still too high for patients and physicians.

“The AMA continues to work for proven reforms to rein in the broken medical liability system, reduce the growth of health care costs and preserve patients’ access to medical care,” said AMA President Dr. Lazarus. “Five years of little or no decreases in premiums have not offset the magnitude of increases that occurred prior to 2008 during this crisis…”

While the current nationwide trend of lower rates is good for some patients, there are patients in some states that remain worse off.

Michigan, where reforms were overturned again and again by the state’s Supreme Court, is among the states that continue to have some of the highest premium rates in the country. As a result, the state has struggled to retain physicians and has shortages in many areas, said Michigan State Medical Society President John G. Bizon, MD, a Battle Creek otolaryngologist.

These critical reforms have been instrumental in keeping premiums in check and helping to ensure patient access to care elsewhere across the country, but a patchwork of laws remains in place.

“While frivolous lawsuits and aggressive trial attorneys still make the legal and liability climate in America a real challenge for physicians and their patients, many states have made progress on this issue in recent years,” Dr. Bizon said. “Still, there is more that can and needs to be done.”

That’s why Protect Patients Now is working to pass federal medical liability reform to reduce health care costs and ensure access to care for all patients across the country. Click here to read the full report on liability rates and what this means for physicians and their patients.

Liability News in Brief

  • A recent poll by the Physicians Foundation showed that 62 percent of those surveyed believed that rising liability insurance costs were responsible for the increases in health care costs. Click here to read more.
  • Kansas is the latest state to uphold comprehensive medical liability reforms, resulting in a win for patients seeking access to care in the largely rural state. To read more about the ruling, click here.
  • Can physicians be held liable to third parties who are injured by patients? This month, the Connecticut Supreme Court said no, ruling on a case in which a woman taking prescription medication passed out while driving and struck a man – and the man in turn sued the woman’s physician. Forcing doctors to be responsible to third parties would have negative consequences on health care delivery and harm the physician-patient relationship, the judges concurred. Click here to read more about the ruling in Connecticut, and similar rulings from other states.