Strong support for Good Samaritan legislation

Following the introduction of the bi-partisan Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act last month in the House of Representatives, strong support led to a companion bill in the Senate.

Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Angus King (I-ME), along with seven additional bi-partisan cosponsors, introduced S. 2941.

Like its House companion, H.R. 5239, the Senate bill would help protect medical volunteers from lawsuits during large-scale disasters and ensure that vital health care services are available to disaster victims without altering liability laws that may already exist in a particular state.

Whether caused by pandemics, wildfires, or hurricanes — disasters know no boundaries. Current inconsistencies in state laws create obstacles to treating those affected, especially when applied to large-scale disasters that may cross state lines.

The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act would ensure that an adequate supply of trained health care professionals is ready and willing to volunteer their services during a time of great need.

“Amidst the chaos and sorrow of the last 18 months, the selflessness and caring of the American people has been on full display,” said Senator King. “Our legislation will permanently ensure that volunteers working to confront emergencies will have reasonable legal protections, allowing them to carry out their work and help Americans in need.”

The Health Coalition on Liability and Access coordinated industry-wide letters of support for the legislation. Click here to read the letter to Representatives Ruiz and Bucshon and here for the letter to Senators King and Cassidy.

Liability rates survey sheds light on shifting market

This month, the annual Medical Liability Monitor released its 31st Annual Rates Survey, which provides an overview of medical professional liability insurance rates across the U.S. The report focuses on three medical specialties: internal medicine, general surgery and obstetrics and gynecology.

“Many companies formerly included no longer sell physicians’ malpractice insurance in certain states, do not currently entertain new business, have withdrawn from this line of insurance or no longer exist,” the report states.

The report noted that for the third year in a row, more than 25% of rates increased, but more rates were noted as flat this year than in the last two — keeping rates high for the foreseeable future.

These rate increases were more pronounced in states without patient compensation funds, where the rates increased 1.9%, with increases of just 0.3% in states with such funds.

The survey pointed out the impact of consolidation on medical professional liability premiums, including the shift from independent to employed physicians and increases in the rates charged to ancillary professionals.

“…As these professionals, in particular nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants, become increasingly responsible for direct patient care, claim frequency and/or severity are likewise increasing,” the report found. As a result, rates for these professionals are expected to increase 15% to 20% over the next two years.

Overall, rates remained stubbornly high — even when expanding the look back to 2015 — and “sizeable increases” are observed when an insurers’ business is concentrated and saturated in one state.

Throwing away a shot at reform

A health care working group in New York threw away its shot at reforming the state’s ailing medical liability climate, per an opinion piece in the Albany Times Union.

Tom Stebbins, Executive Director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, details how the Health Care Simplification Workgroup fell short on playing a role in medical liability reform in a state that desperately needs it.

“The report delivered to the state Legislature that recommends strategies for reducing health care costs should have also tackled comprehensive medical liability reform,” Stebbins writes.

He highlights New York’s leading role in nationwide medical liability payouts — more than the total payouts for the entire Midwest — and the cost of defensive medicine as the leading driver of higher health insurance premiums.

“These payouts increase premiums for healthcare professionals, costs that are passed on to the consumer,” Stebbins explains.

Without commonsense reforms, health care costs will remain high – and so will the number of medical liability lawsuits.

To read the op-ed encouraging another look at medical liability reform opportunities, click here.