Rhode Island Newest Member of the Medical Liability Club; Texas Departs

May 17, 2005

The American Medical Association (AMA) on Monday announced that Rhode Island is the latest state to be trapped by the medical liability crisis that is sweeping the nation.

Rhode Island joins 19 other states designated by the AMA as “in crisis” due to a deteriorating medical liability climate and a growing threat of patients losing access to care.

“An unrestrained legal assault has eroded Rhode Island’s health care system to the point where physicians are restricting services, and patients are losing access to care,” said AMA Trustee William Plested, MD. “Until lawmakers enact proven reforms, our nation’s crisis will only get worse.”

Soaring jury verdicts, which produce lucrative returns for personal injury lawyers, are reportedly driving medical liability insurance premiums beyond the reach of many doctors. As insurance premiums skyrocket, physicians in Rhode Island and across the nation are reportedly forced to limit patient services, retire early, or consider moving to other states.

“Patients bear the brunt of the nation’s broken medical liability system,” said Dr. Plested. “The cost of unrestrained litigation not only jeopardizes patients’ access to physicians, hospitals and clinics, but also inflates the cost of medical services.”

A recent survey by the Rhode Island Medical Society reportedly provides a snapshot of how patients’ access to care is placed in jeopardy by the excesses of an out-of-control legal system.

The survey found:

* 49 percent of Rhode Island physicians say that increasing medical liability costs has caused them to discontinue or consider discontinuing certain services.

* 48 percent of Rhode Island physicians say that increasing medical liability costs has forced them to consider leaving the state or giving up clinical practice.

“We need to fix a jackpot justice system that is bad for our patients, bad for health care, and bad for local economies,” Dr. Plested said. “It’s time for Rhode Island’s state and federal representatives to stand up and do what is necessary to ensure that when patients need care, physicians are there to provide it.”

Rhode Island joins: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming as states in crisis.

Recognizing that a unique turnaround is underway in Texas, the AMA also announced it was removing Texas from the list of crisis states. The medical liability crisis in Texas was reportedly halted thanks to sweeping reforms that took effect Sept. 2003 after voters passed a constitutional amendment to eliminate potential court challenges.

Since reforms were passed, signs of improvement are reportedly widespread in Texas.

Access to care is increasing and claims are down. Physician recruitment and retention is up, especially in high-risk specialties. New insurers are entering the Texas medical liability market creating more choices for physicians.

Subsequently, competition is increasing, and all five of the largest insurers in the Texas medical liability market have announced rate cuts. The rate cuts will reportedly produce about $50 million in savings for Texans.

“Lawmakers and voters acted to bring Texas back from a meltdown of their health system,” said Dr. Plested. “We urge Rhode Island’s state and federal lawmakers to consider the example of other states and look to proven remedies when considering medical liability reform.”

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