PCI Sees Potential for Pa. Medical Liability Cure

February 12, 2004

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America noted that members of the Pennsylvania Senate’s Judiciary Committee passed two bills on Tuesday that will allow the full Senate to debate reforms to the state’s medical liability system. The PCI called the move “an important step toward improving the quality and affordability of health care in the state.”

“We are encouraged that the Legislature is moving forward the dialogue on medical liability reform,” commented Neil Malady, PCI regional manager and counsel. “The time has come for a decision on revamping the state’s medical liability system. The passage of Senate Bill 9 in particular will move the reform process along, and that is making progress.”

Senate Bill 9 makes no substantive changes to the present constitutional provision, but will give the full Senate the opportunity to debate the medical liability reform issue on the floor through the amendment process, according to PCI. The discussion should occur sometime in March. Any constitutional amendment must be approved by voters in a statewide referendum and two successive sessions of the General Assembly.

“The General Assembly should have the power to set caps on pain and suffering damages for all civil actions or at least for medical malpractice claims,” Malady continued. “The people of Pennsylvania should also be given the opportunity to answer that question.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee did not take up measures that would implicitly allow for caps on non-economic damages for medical liability and other civil actions on Tuesday, stating that it is unable to get enough support to approve those bills. Instead, committee members voted on SB 9 and SB 160. Other bills, SB 50 and HB 1326, which would allow legislation capping non-economic damages in all civil actions and not just medical malpractice, and SB 1000, which would limit caps to medical malpractice cases not involving serious injuries, were not considered Tuesday.

SB 160 directs the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study to consider the feasibility of creating a new health care liability system, such as a new no-fault administrative system, a peer review system or specialized medical malpractice courts, to promote better health care practices, regulate costs and rates, and fairly compensate patients. The commission would create an advisory committee made up of individuals from health care, law and insurance industries to assist in exploring alternatives to resolve health care liability claims. The commission is asked to report its findings and recommendations to the Senate by June 1.

The PCI noted that “Pennsylvania is one of nearly two dozen states in the country where experts say medical malpractice lawsuits have reached crisis proportions. During the past year, doctors across the Keystone State have temporarily shut down their practices to protest skyrocketing insurance premiums they say are caused by massive legal awards for pain and suffering.”

“Our judicial system lacks predictability, reliability and stability in determining medical liability and placing a value on what it is worth,” Malady noted. “The bottom line is that costs must be controlled and predictability must be improved to attract insurers to the Pennsylvania market. Caps on pain and suffering awards are essential in creating a stable and predictable general liability market. Caps on legal awards also would be a meaningful, lasting solution, and would ensure that claims that truly have merit receive fair and adequate compensation.”

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