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Special Legislative Session Gives the OK for Reform
In response to a court ruling that liability reforms passed in 2009 violated Oklahoma’s constitution because unrelated issues were included in a single bill, the state legislature met earlier this month for a special session to reinstate critical pieces of medical liability reform.
Giving the OK to 23 separate liability bills, Governor Mary Fallin signed single-subject bills including an affidavit of merit requirement, expert testimony standards, and emergency and volunteer liability protections.
Passage of the legislation was a key priority for the American Medical Association and the Oklahoma State Medical Association in order to ensure that personal injury lawyers would not take advantage of the gap between the court ruling and the regular session of the legislature, which would not normally meet until February.
“These laws had already begun paying dividends for Oklahoma’s physicians and their patients, and we are glad that lawmakers understood the important role these reforms play in promoting access to care,” Oklahoma State Medical Association President Robert McCaffree, MD, said in a statement.
Now that these laws are back on the books in Oklahoma, physicians remain free from the threat of meritless lawsuits, and patients will benefit from accessible, affordable health care. To read more about Oklahoma’s re-adoption of medical liability reform legislation, click here.
Volunteer Liability Reform Means More Physicians in Missouri
Physicians providing free health care services through charitable organizations and in the wake of disasters can practice in the state of Missouri without the looming threat of lawsuits, as the Missouri Legislature overrode a Governor’s veto of the Volunteer Health Services Act earlier this month.
The measure waives civil penalties against volunteers unless there is a “gross deviation from the ordinary standard of care or willful misconduct.” The change means health professionals from outside of the state, including retired physicians, can donate their services to underserved patients.
The need for a legislative fix came to light in 2011, when the charitable group Remote Area Medical sent its mobile eyeglass clinic to Joplin, MO to assist in the tornado recovery effort, but was unable to work because the group’s optometrist and opticians weren’t licensed in Missouri.
“This is going to increase access to health care for thousands of Missourians at no cost to the taxpayer,” said bill sponsor Sen. David Sater, a pharmacist.
The bill goes into effect in 30 days and will have an immediate impact on access to care, with Remote Area Medical already making plans for charitable events in St. Louis and more remote areas of Missouri.
To read more about how volunteer liability reform will promote access to care and increase the number of physicians providing critical health care services in Missouri, click here.
New Mexico Court Closes Loophole in Liability Ruling
The New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled this week that the business entities of physicians are in fact covered by the state’s liability laws, closing a loophole in which physician corporations where unintentionally excluded from a previous definition of “health care provider.”
The Court of Appeals found that while professional corporations don’t literally meet the definition of providers in the Medical Malpractice Act that limits non-economic damages to $600,000, the Legislature meant it to apply to them and provide physicians’ business entities protection under the law.
“A strict adherence to the plain language of the definition would conflict with legislative intent,” said the opinion by Justice Barbara Vigil.
“In light of the act’s purpose, we can discern no reason why the Legislature would intend to cover individual medical professionals under the act while excluding the business organizations that they operate,” the Vigil opinion concluded.
Closing this loophole will allow physicians to continue to provide widespread access to care and avert a medical liability insurance crisis, such as the one experienced in the years leading up to initial passage of liability reforms in the 1970s. To read more about the clarification of physician coverage under New Mexico’s medical liability reform laws, click here.
Texas Tort Reform: A Decade of Access to Care
Protect Patients Now would be remiss to exclude mention of Texas’s 10-year achievement of expanding access to care, reducing meritless lawsuits, and increasing the number of physicians throughout the state to a previously unimaginable new high.
There has been no shortage of good news out of Texas over the past decade, and Governor Perry summed up the milestone at an event with medical professionals earlier this month commemorating the anniversary.
“Ten years ago, Texas doctors were faced with an awful choice: stop providing critical services their patients desperately needed, shut down their practice altogether, or leave the state,” Gov. Perry said.
“The best thing we can say about tort reform in Texas is also the most basic thing: It’s made people’s lives better. Since Proposition 12 passed 10 years ago, Texas has added more than 30,000 doctors with significant gains in communities that had been traditionally medically underserved.”
Protect Patients Now will continue to tout the successes of Texas tort reform to our grassroots supporters, and work at the federal level to replicate those reforms with a proven record of success.
Congratulations, Texas! Click here to read more.