Three months of wrangling over reforming Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice insurance system may be at an end with the passage of House Bill 1802 by a 196 to 1 margin, following its unanimous approval in the Senate.
Governor Mark Schweiker, who’s in Japan on a trade mission, praised the legislator’s efforts, and the bill they produced. “Today, Pennsylvania will no longer have to worry about losing its doctors,” Schweiker stated, and went on to add that “From Day One, I have insisted on a three-pronged approach to reform that balances the need for strong tort reform, lower insurance premiums, and most importantly, patient safety. That is exactly what this legislation addresses.” Judging by the governor’s tone it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll sign the bill.
The announcement summarized the main points of the reform legislation as follows:
— Requiring hospitals to report medical errors to a newly formed Patient Safety Authority and the state Department of Health in an effort to identify preventable trends and problems;
— Providing immediate relief to physicians by giving them a CAT Fund [Pennsylvania’s state administered Medical Professional Liability Catastrophe Fund] discount in 2002, 2003 and 2004;
— Strengthening the state Medical Board’s power by granting it enforcement authority to investigate physicians;
— Privatizing the claims handling of the Pennsylvania Medical Catastrophe Fund (CAT Fund) beginning this fall, and phasing it out entirely beginning in 2006;
— Allowing malpractice judgments for future medical costs to be spread out over time;
— Requiring claims to be filed within seven years from the date of injury; and
–Eliminating the duplication of recovery for past medical expenses.
The effect of phasing out the CAT Fund will force Pennsylvania’s doctors to obtain private medical malpractice liability insurers, but the other reforms are aimed at reducing, or at least smoothing out claims payments, which, it’s hoped, will make such coverage more affordable.
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