PA-ACP calls for constitutional amendment on med mal venue rules
June 25, 2022
TO: Members, Senate of Pennsylvania
RE: Medical Malpractice – Venue Legislation
I write today on behalf of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Physicians and its 7,800 member physicians practicing general internal medicine and related subspecialties, including cardiology, gastroenterology, nephrology, endocrinology, hematology, rheumatology, pulmonary disease, oncology, infectious diseases, allergy and immunology, palliative care and geriatrics. We are asking your support to include language such as that in HB 2660 in any constitutional amendment legislation that is agreed-to with the House, so that the legislature can set policy in the area of venue for medical malpractice lawsuit filings.
Twenty years ago, Pennsylvania was in the depths of a medical liability crisis. Liability premiums for healthcare professionals skyrocketed – causing hospitals and medical professionals to curtail services. A major reason for those premium costs was the fact that a disproportionate number of medical malpractice lawsuits were being filed in two or three counties where judges and juries offered high verdicts and costs.
With access to health care under attack, the Governor, Legislature, and Courts worked together to make fundamental changes, some via legislation. A key provision was agreed to by the Supreme Court - that med mal lawsuits must be filed in the county where the cause of action or the alleged injury occurred. After the rule was adopted, the number of medical liability cases filed in Philadelphia and other high verdict court systems quickly dropped, and premiums returned to more reasonable levels.
Since late 2018, plaintiffs’ attorneys have pushed to return to the pre-2003 medical liability venue rule and the days of profitable, jackpot awards. The Supreme Court could act at any time to unilaterally rescind the med mal venue rule and replace it with one returning venue shopping to medical liability cases – with costly results for providers, hospitals and patients alike.
The Senate Judiciary Committee released an actuarial report earlier this month that provides evidence of the devastating impacts if venue shopping is again allowed in medical liability cases. Physicians in almost one-fourth of our counties would see double digit premium increases of as much as 82%. The state-wide average increase for physicians would be more than seven percent.
The report, which was commissioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee, notes that these increases for physicians and hospitals alike would result in higher premiums, increased health care costs, and reduced patient access to health care.
Please support a constitutional amendment containing the language now in HB 2660 to avoid a repeat of the health care crisis we all faced twenty years ago. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions.
Thank you for your consideration of our request,
Larry Jones, MD, FACP, President
PA Chapter, American College of Physicians