Pa. Gov. Informs Med Students on Reform Plan

March 11, 2004

Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell, recently met with student representatives from the state’s eight medical schools and assured them that he shares their concerns about rising medical malpractice insurance costs.

The governor reviewed his plan to guarantee that all Pennsylvanians have access to quality medical care and urged the students to practice medicine in the Commonwealth upon graduation.

“Pennsylvania is home to the finest health care anywhere, and these young men and women are the key to making sure our people continue to have access to the care they deserve in the future,” Rendell stated. “The goal of today’s meeting was to gain a better appreciation of what each of us is doing to make sure excellent health care is available. I also wanted the students to understand from my perspective the complications of the problems we face, the value of the reforms that have already been passed and the challenges of the work that remains.”

The Governor, who was joined by the director of his Office of Health Care Reform, Rosemarie Greco, said that even before becoming Governor, he proposed helping physicians pay their premiums to the state-run Mcare fund to reduce the overall cost of their malpractice insurance. After working throughout 2003, in December the General Assembly approved the Governor’s abatement plan, worth $220 million a year to physicians and nurse midwives, for 2003 and 2004. The Governor said that the abatement was only a short-term solution to the problem but would keep physicians practicing in Pennsylvania until long-term solutions are approved and take effect.

According to the Insurance Department, as of March 9, 37,008 electronic applications for the 2003 abatement had been filed, and 31,494 of them are considered complete applications. Of the 31,494 completed applications, 25,770 are eligible for the 50 percent abatement for $80,248,031 and 4,810 are eligible for the 100 percent abatement for $100,313,208. One hundred and seventy-six applications have been determined to be ineligible, and 817 applications are pending. These numbers are still preliminary and continue to change.

Last June Rendell proposed med mal reforms built around patient safety initiatives and reducing medical mistakes, which result in malpractice insurance claims. The plan also includes “insurance reforms and other tort reforms, including a cap on lawyers’ fees, giving judges more power to limit runaway awards — changing the legal definition of Remittitur — and the use of voluntary mediation as an alternative to the courts,” said the announcement. The proposals requiring implementation by the Administration or the courts are under way. Most of the proposals require legislative approval and have not yet been debated.

“I told these students that I believe it is unfortunate that the issue of capping damage awards has become the single defining reform issue for many people,” Rendell continued. “I reminded them that the Governor plays no legal role in approving a constitutional question. Also, those who view changing our Constitution as a way to solve the malpractice problem immediately need to remember that it will take a few years, at minimum, before the question can appear on the ballot. I think it is unwise to wait that long to begin addressing the problems.”

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