Americans face a new threat to their health care in the form of a medical malpractice litigation crisis that if left unchecked will make quality health care harder to find, Robert A. Rusbuldt, CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA), said.
Praising the leadership of President Bush and echoing his call for passage of medical malpractice reform, Rusbuldt says that without reform litigation will continue to spiral out of control, forcing more doctors to close practices or move to states with less-hostile, medical-legal environments and leaving people without access to quality health care.
“Independent agents and brokers are seeing mounting evidence that medical malpractice litigation is out of control,” Rusbuldt said. “They are bombarded every day with calls from doctors, who either have lost their insurance or are faced with prohibitive premium increases, seeking new coverage. But many agents and brokers are unable to help the doctors because the medical malpractice market has been whittled to a few markets, and those insurance companies have no choice but to raise premiums or drop coverage because of out-of-control medical litigation and sky-high awards.
“Congress must pass legislation like the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care (HEALTH) Act (H.R. 4600), introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.), that would place reasonable limits on non-economic and punitive damages in medical malpractice lawsuits and safeguard access to medical care,” Rusbuldt continued.
IIABA supports the HEALTH Act, which offers common-sense reform provisions that would:
• Limit the number of years a plaintiff has to file a health care liability action to ensure that claims are brought while evidence and witnesses are available;
• Allocate damages fairly, in proportion to a party’s degree of fault;
• Allow patients to recover economic damages, such as future medical expenses and loss of future earnings while establishing a cap on non- economic damages of $250,000; and.
• Place reasonable limits on punitive damages to the greater of two times
the amount of economic damages awarded or $250,000.
IIABA also supports the initiative outlined by President Bush last week. Under the President’s plan, caps would be placed on non-economic damages, which compensate a victim for pain and suffering, at $250,000. The Administration believes the President’s plan could save the federal government $30 billion annually in health costs and could reduce costs for all Americans by $60 billion or more.
“The price of medical malpractice is going through the roof, and becoming unaffordable for many doctors. Simply put, the threat of lawsuits is increasing the costs of health care in general,” IIABA Senior Vice President of Federal Government Affairs Maria L. Berthoud remarked. “If nothing is done, doctors with coverage will continue to practice defensive medicine driving up the cost of health care and those without will cease practicing altogether or move to a state where they can find and afford liability protection.”
A new Department of Health and Human Services study—Confronting the New Health Care Crisis: Improving Health Care Quality and Lowering Costs By Fixing Our Medical Liability System—says that a “critical element for enabling [health care] reforms to provide real relief, and to help all Americans get access to better and more affordable health care, is curbing excessive litigation.”
The report states: “The excesses of the litigation system are an important contributor to ‘defensive medicine’—the costly use of medical treatments by a doctor for the purpose of avoiding litigation. As multimillion-dollar jury awards have become more commonplace in recent years, these problems have reached crisis proportions. Insurance premiums for malpractice are increasing at a rapid rate, particularly in states that have not taken steps to make their legal systems function more predictably and effectively. Doctors are facing much higher costs of insurance, and some cannot obtain insurance despite having never lost a single malpractice judgment or even faced a claim.
Although some states have acted to curb litigation abuses, not enough have done so to avert the looming crisis, according to Berthoud. “The bottom line is that congressional action, in conjunction with further action by states, is essential to help Americans get high-quality care when they need it, at an affordable cost.”
IIABA will be working with the White House, Rep. Greenwood and all interested members of Congress and private-sector groups to push for enactment of legislation. “There is no choice. Congress must act before litigation saps the lifeblood—medical professionals—out of our medical system,” Berthoud added.
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