THE NEW MED MAL CRISIS…THE COURTS, PA-ACP AND YOU

BOTTOM LINE: When Pennsylvania was in the middle of a medical liability crisis 20 years ago, physicians were leaving the state in droves, leaving patients without their physicians, and medical liability premiums were skyrocketing. Only four percent of medical school and residency graduates were staying in Pennsylvania because of the med mal environment.
 
We simply can’t afford that.  Patient access to quality care, costs of medicine and your entire practice environment are being impacted by the courts.  PA-ACP is acting to stop the Courts from returning us to those days.
 
BRIEF SUMMARY – MED MAL AND PA COURTS: In the early 2000’s, med mal premiums increased at double digit rates.  Changes to the state’s CAT Fund resulted in private insurers facing unexpected payments and charging more for premiums, while providers were forced to boost the amount of private coverage they had to purchase. 
Three of the state’s five major private medical-liability insurers ceased writing policies in Pennsylvania. Insurance premiums shot up in certain specialties, threatening providers’ financial viability. Two major attempts to rein in costs of lawsuits resulted in acts of the legislature in 2002.  “Venue shopping,” frivolous lawsuits, the statute of repose for medical malpractice suits (limits time for discovery – effectively limiting time to file med mal actions to seven years) and caps on punitive damages were passed in three different acts. 
 
In 2002, after several years of work with the Governor, the Attorney General, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the General Assembly and stakeholders, two laws were passed to control the med mal crisis.  Act 13 of 2002 made many changes in the lawsuits themselves, and later that year, Act 127 mandated that any alleged medical malpractice suit must be filed in the county where the alleged action occurred – both were upheld by the State Supreme Court.  The impacts were quick and dramatic.
Now, the State Supreme Court is considering a change in the venue procedures, and most recently, on November 1, declared the seven year statute of repose established in Act 13 unconstitutional.  If the court uses similar justification for challenges to the med mal laws, the certificate of ermit and caps on punitive damages sections of Act 13 will also be in jeopardy.
Even without those changes, elimination of the seven year statute of repose means our members are now subject to increased liability and discovery for an extended period of time.

WHAT IS PA-ACP DOING?
PA-ACP is committed to protecting its members and patients and is fighting changes by the state Supreme Court that would dismantle the laws passed in 2002 to resolve that crisis.
 
PA-ACP has worked with insurers, hospitals, other provider organizations and the General Assembly to oppose any change in the state’s venue processes by court fiat, and successfully worked to force a study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee before the Court Rules of Civil Procedures Committee can make a decision.  The Chapter will continue to work with these groups and the General Assembly to pass laws that will correct the Court decision, if it chooses to fly in the face of  current law.
 
PA-ACP immediately went into action on your behalf, filing an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of UPMC’s request for reconsideration of the decision in the Yanakos v. UPMC decision.
The Chapter joined with the PA Orthopaedic Society, the Defense Institute and the PA Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics in that effort.  If the Court refuses reconsideration, PA-ACP has prioritized corrective legislation to correct the law and put it back into effect.

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