HARRISBURG, Pa. – A proposed rule change from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could usher the return of skyrocketing medical liability premiums for physicians and threaten patient access to quality care, says the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED).
Escalating medical liability premiums created a crisis in Pennsylvania when the state lost approximately 10 percent of its physicians between 1997-2000. Reforms by the state legislature and court system in 2002 stabilized the medical liability insurance market and reversed the crisis.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently proposed to eliminate one of the key pieces of those reforms.
Currently, medical liability claims can only stand trial in the county where the alleged medical error occurred. The rule change would eliminate this restriction and allow attorneys to move medical liability claims to counties that award higher payoffs – a practice known as “venue shopping.”
The proposed rule is open for public comments between now and Feb. 22. The court argues that venue restrictions are no longer necessary because Pennsylvania’s physicians no longer face skyrocketing medical liability rates.
A coalition that includes PAMED, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), and the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) says the venue rule was one of the primary reasons the medical liability market has stabilized during the past 15 years.
“If history is any indication, this could have devastating effects on patient care,” said Danae Powers, MD, president of PAMED. “In the years before we restricted venue shopping, medical liability premiums rose so quickly that some physicians couldn’t obtain the insurance they needed to treat patients. Others chose to leave Pennsylvania or retire.”
A shrinking physician workforce made it more difficult for patients to get care, says Dr. Powers, especially among “high-risk” physicians such as OB-GYNs and surgeons.
“This rule change ignores history and puts new mothers, older Pennsylvanians and anyone needing a specialist at risk of losing access to quality health care,” said Curt Schroder, Executive Director at PCCJR. “The practice of venue shopping was an integral part of a health care crisis in Pennsylvania before and should this rule change be adopted, we run the risk of repeating history.”
Nathan Hoff, a third-year medical student from Scranton, says the rule change would increase the chances that medical students and physician residents would seek employment in other states after graduating.
“While you may have already heard from many physicians, this issue is also important to medical students and residents, such as myself,” said Hoff, who is chair of PAMED’s Medical Student Section. “This is very likely to cause future generations of physicians to seek employment opportunities outside of Pennsylvania, leaving the state with less physicians and adversely affecting patient care.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Civil Procedural Rules Committee, which is proposing the change, is comprised of lawyers.
Source: Pennsylvania Medical Society. More information: www.pamedsoc.org/VenueRule