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“We’re not in a crisis. We’re definitely not in a crisis.”

An annual survey by Medical Liability Monitor (MLM) found that medical malpractice premiums rates have fallen 1.1%, the 10th consecutive year of lower rates in obstetrics & gynecology, general surgery, and general internal medicine, three areas of medicine said to be indicative of the industry as a whole.

The survey found that many physicians are paying lower premiums than they did in the early 2000s and noted that one insurance carrier was recently quoting general surgeons in Wisconsin $10,868, but was quoting $15,980 sixteen years ago.

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A pharmacy technician at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pittsburgh has been accused of switching pain pills out for anti-nausea and thyroid pills, affecting close to 360 patients over 4 months. Those affected included amputees, post-surgical patients, accident victims, and some suffering from terminal cancers.

In September, 16 victims filed a lawsuit against the hospital, alleging negligence in their practices, which did not include any sort of checks and balances system in monitoring, dispensing, and distributing opioids. One of the victims named in the lawsuit was suffering from painful bone cancer.

The deceit wasn’t discovered until the daughter of one of the victims realized that the pills her mother were taking were not oxycodone and alerted staff. The pharmacy tech, 47 year old Cheryl Ashcraft, admitted that she had been taking the opioids. She was sentenced to less than 1 year in jail and must serve 3 years probation.

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In collaboration with the New York Times, ProPublica authored a multi-part series on the falling cost of generic drugs and insurance. One article sought to answer what politicians and many consumers have been asking lately: If generics are cheaper, why are some insurance plans requiring consumers to use the more expensive brand name versions? ProPublica spoke to a California pediatrician who said he began receiving memos from pharmacies telling him that he had to prescribe name brand versions of attention deficit drugs such as Adderall XR.

ProPublica has revealed that deals with insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers (companies such as CVS Caremark who manage drugs plans for insurance companies) are receiving kickbacks and deals, while leaving consumers footing the bill for higher out of pocket costs.

Adderall XR and Insurance Companies: Back Room Negotiations

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“‘With our technology, every single time a woman dies [in childbirth], it’s a medical error.'”

In May of this year, ProPublica joined forces with NPR to tell the story of Lauren Bloomstein, a NICU nurse at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey.  After years of taking care of thousands of new babies, Lauren and her husband, orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. Larry Bloomstein, were finally about to bring their own child into the world. 20 hours after delivering their daughter, Hailey, Lauren Bloomstein was gone. Her cause of death was complications due to Hellp syndrome, a rare pregnancy-related condition considered to be a severe variant of Preeclampsia. In the hospital where she had tirelessly worked to save others, physicians and nursing staff ultimately failed her. A first-time mother who had lost her own mom as a child was dead at just 33 years old.

Hellp Syndrome & Preeclampsia: What Are They?

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Earlier this week, the Washington Post published an article about the influence of lobbyists on legislation that would decimate patients’ rights and eliminate fair compensation for non-economic damages, frequently referred to as pain and suffering. The article comes on the heels of public declarations by heads of lobbyist groups who claim that H.R. 1215, the Protecting Access to Care Act, was passed in the House and used nearly identical language to the drafts they submitted to Representatives. The Washington Post quotes New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: “Large business groups are writing these bills. This has got to stop.” The House passed H.R. 1215 with a vote of 218-210 in July. The Senate is due to take a summer recess before Congress reconvenes after Labor Day. A Senate vote on H.R. 1215 will likely take place in September.

The Washington Post also touches on the swiftness with which some of the recently proposed bills have been passed, as well as the rarity of a bill that concerns something as large as tort reform being voted on without hearings from public interest groups and other outside parties. The article points out that the Senate’s recent attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was also voted on without public input.

Big Business Lobbyists Scoring Major Victories

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Republican Arizona Representative Martha McSally recently penned an article for the Arizona Daily Star about why she decided to break party alliances and vote against a bill that would take away an injured victim’s right to fair compensation.

H.R. 1215, also known as the Protecting Access to Care Act, narrowly passed the House with a vote of 218-210 in late June, thanks to 19 ‘No’ votes from Republican congress members such as Ms. McSally. While voting has yet to take place in the Senate, the slim margin by which the bill passed in the House gives many hope that Senators and Representatives are trusting their gut feelings about such a restrictive bill, as well as listening to the loud voices of their constituents. The bill would only allow victims of medical error, nursing home abuse and neglect, and of medical device and prescription drug injuries no more than $250,000 in non-economic damages, frequently referred to as ‘pain and suffering.’

No Price Tag on a Life or One’s Livelihood

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An appeals court in Wisconsin ruled in favor of overturning the state’s $750,000 non-economic damages cap, with Judge Joan Kessler saying that a “cap on non-economic medical malpractice damages always reduces non-economic damages only for the class of the most severely injured victims who have been awarded damages exceeding the cap, yet always allows full damages to the less severely injured malpractice victims.”

The case was brought forth by Wisconsin’s state medical malpractice fund, an entity that is responsible for the payment of malpractice settlements and judgements against state-run facilities. The appeal came after a Milwaukee mother of 4 suffered from an infection that put her into septic shock and a coma, leading to amputation of all 4 limbs. The woman, Ascaris Mayo, was only 57 years old in 2011 when the missed diagnosis of a Strep A infection forced her to become a quadruple amputee. In 2014, a jury awarded her $8.8 million in economic damages, along with $16.5 million for pain and suffering. Under previous Wisconsin law, she would have been able to collect the $8.8 million in economic damages, but only $750,000 for pain and suffering.

It is expected that the state medical malpractice fund will attempt to take the appeal before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but the victory of Mrs. Mayo in Wisconsin is a step in the right direction for all injured victims and those of us who fight for patients’ rights.

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“Health care fraud is a reprehensible crime,” said Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson. “It not only represents a theft from taxpayers who fund these vital programs, but impacts the millions of Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid.”

In a landmark takedown by the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has filed charges against 412 individuals in connection with Medicare fraud, 120 of which were in connection with the opioid epidemic that is currently plaguing our country. A Washington Post article today says that of the 120 charged in connection with opioid-related Medicare fraud, 115 of those were medical professionals, 56 of which were physicians.  The charges indicate that many of the physicians wrote false scripts and participated in other schemes that aimed to sell drugs to known addicts. The amount fraudulently billed to Medicare is said to total $1.3 billion.

In a statement today, Sessions says that one American dies every 11 minutes from a drug overdose and that we are currently seeing more drug-related deaths than we ever have in U.S. history.

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In a House vote yesterday, H.R. 1215, also known as the Protecting Access to Care Act, passed by an extremely close margin of 218 – 210. With such questionable support, patient advocates and all of us who fight to uphold the 7th amendment (the right to a trial by jury) feel hopeful that Senate Democrats and Republicans will vote against the bill. While the date of a Senate vote is yet to be announced, we cannot stress enough how important it is to continue contacting your Senators to voice your opposition to the bill. To make your voice heard, you can call your members of Congress by visiting www.takejusticeback.com/protectpatients.  Please act now.

Below is a statement from the American Association of Justice on the passage of H.R. 1215 in the House of Representatives:

For Immediate Release 

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Today on NPR.org, journalist Michelle Andrews detailed the components of H.R. 1215 (The Protecting Access to Care Act) and used research to debunk all of the myths that H.R. 1215 supporters have been perpetuating. The changes that H.R. 1215 would implement are massive and with little benefit to Americans. Instead, the law heavily favors insurance companies and providers, leaving victims of medical error, pharmaceutical and device defects, and nursing home abuse and neglect victims with little recourse when things go wrong. And we know they do. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.

What is H.R. 1215?

The Protecting Access to Care Act, H.R. 1215, is separate from the Better Care Act of 2017 (initially called the American Health Care Act of 2017 by the House, renamed to BCA by the Senate). The Better Care Act of 2017 was set to be voted on this week by the Senate, but was recently delayed until after July 4th. The Better Care Act is the Republican answer to the repealing and replacing Obamacare. In contrast, H.R. 1215 is related to medical malpractice and lawsuits.