Articles Posted in Tort Reform

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H.R. 1215, a proposed house bill also known as the Protecting Access to Care Act, takes away the rights of all Americans, but is particularly worrying to veterans, whose health system is already failing them. The Veteran’s Health Administration (VA) serves nearly 9 million U.S. veterans and is the largest health care system in the country. The number of veterans receiving care through the VA has continually increased since 2010, which is in line with the increase in veterans returning from tours in Iraq & Afghanistan.

Patient Safety an Issue at VA Facilities
It’s no secret that the VA has been plagued by issues, including delayed care and treatment due to excessive wait times and inadequate staffing that has ultimately led to a rash of medical errors, many of which have been fatal. The Government Accountability Office reported that as the number of patients seen by the VA has increased, so has the number of medical errors. The Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School compiled a fact sheet on the impact H.R. 1215 would have on veterans and cites an April 2017 report by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) that found 194 instances in the past 3 years alone where patient safety was at jeopardy. The fact sheet also cites another report that found that from 2001-2011, the government paid out over 1,000 malpractice claims. If a medical error ends in an injury or death while under the care of the VA, the U.S. Government is ultimately at fault. In limiting non-economic damages to $250,000 (as H.R. 1215 seeks to do), the government is protecting itself from large payouts for tragic consequences stemming from their inability to fix a long-ailing health system. The negative impact of H.R. 1215 is wide-reaching. From sick children receiving Medicaid, to elderly adults receiving Medicaid and Medicare, to veterans, we all stand to be harmed by the so called Protecting Access to Care Act. The only ones being shielded by such legislation are those who should be held responsible.

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‘Republicans should drop malpractice reform from their health care reform checklist. It’s a distraction from the main goal of health care freedom and it is probably unconstitutional. It’s also overrated.’

                                                                                                    -Jeffrey A. Singer, M.D.

In an April 4th online article posted on Reason.com, a bi-partisan online news site that focuses on current events and issues, surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Singer discussed his views on medical malpractice reform. Citing his personal feelings along with multiple published studies, Singer concludes that tort reform, the practice viewed by Republicans as the answer to high medical insurance and medical procedure costs, is a blow to the founding principles of federalism. Singer also views the practice as a faulty diagnosis of our country’s health care care crisis. While Singer says that after 30 years in private practice, tort reform is something he hopes to see happen, he wants to see it at the state level and is not so sure that it’s the answer to any of the issues plaguing our health care system today.

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Public Policy Polling (PPP) recently released data from phone polls conducted in late March on the topic of H.R. 1215, a House bill that will be voted on in the next several weeks. H.R. 1215 seeks to limit non-economic damages to $250,000 in medical malpractice, nursing home abuse, prescription and OTC drug and medical device lawsuits. PPP asked the same set of questions to between 500-700 registered voters in 7 red (Republican) and purple states (those that have voted both Republican & Democratic in the past several elections). Polling only red & purple states was intentional, as  Republicans have traditionally leaned towards tort reform, the act of limiting medical malpractice and nursing home abuse lawsuits in favor of protecting big corporations. PPP found that in the polled states of Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Alabama and Arizona, support for H.R. 1215 was virtually non-existent, with over 60% of polled citizens in every state disagreeing with the bill.

Even more impressive was the percentage of voters in each state that believed nursing homes should be held accountable if acts of negligence caused the injury or death of a loved one. The amount of support for nursing home abuse and negligence lawsuits was 77% at its lowest (Florida), and 86% at its highest (Georgia).

Finally, each state’s opposition to H.R. 1215 grew stronger as the person conducting the phone interview gave more information on the bill to voters.

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As we wait for tomorrow’s vote on the confirmation of Tom Price for Secretary of Health & Human Services, one cannot help but notice many erroneous ‘facts’ and figures being touted in the media by medical malpractice naysayers. One such untruth is that healthcare costs have significantly increased in recent years due to an influx in medical malpractice lawsuits. Despite evidence to the contrary, this myth persists and there seems to be no end in sight.

You Can’t Argue the Facts

Nationwide, state-filed medical malpractice lawsuits fell 23% between 2001 and 2010. In Illinois alone, medical malpractice suits have fallen 39% since 2003. Across the United States, civil lawsuits, under which medical malpractice is classified, are mostly comprised of contract disputes. In fact, 64% of all civil lawsuits are related to contracts, while malpractice cases account for only .2% of all civil lawsuits. This information was obtained through the Illinois Courts’ own website.

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Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Republican senator who is best known for his unsuccessful 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns, is guilty of saying one thing and doing another.  In 1999, Santorum’s wife, Karen, sued her chiropractor for $500,000 after his treatment of her sore back caused further injury that required surgery. Former Senator Santorum testified in the case that his wife’s quality of life had been diminished, with the injury having harmed her active lifestyle and her ability to keep up with household tasks. Mrs. Santorum was awarded $350,000 (she ultimately received $175,000).

Hypocrisy

Just 5 years prior to his wife’s lawsuit, Santorum fought to implement legislation that would place a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering, the very injustices that he testified his wife had to face after receiving poor care. Not surprisingly, when pushed by the media on the issue during his 2012 presidential bid, Santorum said that his wife did not sue for pain and suffering.  Instead, he argued that his wife fought to be compensated for lost income and costs stemming from the injury (medical costs associated with her injury and surgery were shown to total less than $20,000). The judge who initially presided over the trial later reduced her award to $175,000, citing Mrs. Santorum’s own words that the operation gave her “immediate relief” and that she required no further treatment after the surgery.

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An article posted yesterday on Huffington Post examines how Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will force Americans to be treated as a diagnosis and not an individual with personal or legal rights. This past May, Tom Price, now Trump’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, released the ‘Empowering Patients First Act,’ his alternative to healthcare reform known as the Affordable Care Act.

Price’s plan, known as the Empowering Patients First Act, would require doctors to administer medical treatment for symptoms based on a set of guidelines established by the Secretary of Health & Human Services in conjunction with a currently unidentified  ‘qualified physician census organization.’ According to Price, these clinical guidelines would be updated every two years and would be made available to the public. Should the Empowering Patients First Act pass, Americans would no longer be treated as an individual, but rather as a set of symptoms resulting in a one size fits all diagnosis.

Why Americans Should Worry

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In November, Americans for Insurance Reform (AIR), a coalition of nearly 100 consumer interest groups, released the results of two studies they conducted based on new insurance data. The studies reveal that contrary to Speaker Paul Ryan’s claims, states that allow caps on damages and other tort reform measures actually have higher doctor’s rates. These same studies also show that premiums and claims for doctors are at their lowest levels in 40 years.

Tort reform supporters frequently claim that medical malpractice insurance rate hikes are directly linked to increases in malpractice payouts. AIR found that rising rates were tied to the economy and the financial losses of the insurance industry, relating to their investments in the stock and bond markets. In years where the stock market was strong, insurance companies lowered premiums in an effort to attract customers and quickly invest the profit made from their premiums.

Based on these findings, AIR concludes that insurance companies are allowing tort reform supporters to believe that taking away the right to fair compensation for those injured by negligence will reduce insurance rates. According to AIR, ‘Lawmakers should focus instead on controlling the power and the abuses of the insurance industry.’

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States around the country are making terrible mistakes by enacting draconian tort reform measures that strip injured patients of their rights to recover from doctors and other medical professionals who hurt them. The only way there is to hold these healthcare providers responsible for their negligence is by filing medical malpractice claims. In spite of the importance of medical malpractice litigation, some state legislatures like those in Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin have taken steps to severely curtail these lawsuits. Fortunately, it appears that Illinois will not be falling for the tort reform any time soon.

Illinois Committee of the Whole Holds Tort Reform Hearing

Last month the Illinois Committee of the Whole held an hours long hearing on tort reform reports the Illinois News Network. There currently are not any official proposals on the table for tort reform in Illinois, but it is always a possibility and the insurance lobby never stops pushing for measures like damage caps. Fortunately at this hearing victims of medical malpractice had an opportunity to speak out and remind legislators why damage caps are so harmful. In addition to these medical malpractice victims, victims of other types of torts also came forward and testified about why general personal injury or wrongful death damage caps would be harmful. The widows of two dead state troopers were among those who testified.
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State after state falls into the trap of pursuing wrong-minded so-called tort reform laws. These laws are marketed to the public as a necessity to prevent frivolous lawsuits. However, all these sorts of laws do in reality is deny those most injured by medical malpractice the ability to recover fully for injuries caused by the negligence of healthcare providers while often violating various constitutional provisions. Misguided and dangerous medical malpractice legislation is currently pending in the Georgia legislature.

Dangerous Tort Reform Measure Pending in Georgia

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Georgia’s legislature is considering medical malpractice legislation. The bill is Senate Bill 86. This new law would go even further than other states’ prior tort reform measures, stripping patients seriously injured by their doctors of any right to a trial by jury at all. Instead every single medical malpractice claim in the state would be handled by a sort of administrative tribunal.

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While courts in states as varies as Illinois, Missouri, and Florida continue to hold tort reform measures designed to rob injured plaintiffs of their rights to recover for their personal injuries unconstitutional, legislators continue to push these measures in states that have not yet enacted them. Colorado is the next state to face the possibility of draconian tort reform measures this legislative term. Caps on medical malpractice damages are just one type of law that the insurance lobby is pushing for this year. West Virginians are also in danger.

Colorado Legislators Push for Tort Reform

Denver’s News 9 reports that the Colorado legislature has already introduced 111 bills this session. Tort reform efforts are among those bills and apparently the effort is at least partially bipartisan. The Denver Business Journal reports that the efforts are large scale.
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