AMA Supports Oklahoma Medical Liability Reform Efforts

February 26, 2004

In a statement attributed to J. James Rohack, MD, chair-elect of the American Medical Association Board of Trustees, the AMA expressed its support for medical liability reform in Oklahoma.

“The American Medical Association joins the patients and physicians of Oklahoma in calling for passage of legislative reforms to address mounting signs of a medical liability crisis,” Rohack said. “There are already 19 states in crisis, we don’t want Oklahoma to be the next one.

“Oklahoma’s only Level I trauma center is in jeopardy of closing in part due to an out-of-control liability system. Last year, escalating jury awards caused Oklahoma’s largest liability insurer to increase physician rates more than 82 percent. Many Oklahoma physicians fear they will be forced to stop providing certain services, or close their practices all together.

“Oklahoma lawmakers must understand that patients will bear the brunt of this developing crisis. The cost of unrestrained litigation drives away physicians, closes clinics and hospitals, jeopardizes patient access, hinders activities to promote quality, and inflates the costs of medical services.

“The U.S. government says our nation’s broken medical liability system adds $70 billion to $126 billion to health care costs each year. Oklahoma’s share of these dollars would be better spent on providing health care to the uninsured, improving access to medical care in rural areas, and spurring innovation in medical technologies, especially those that lead to safer medical practices.

“Driving the unnecessary spending in health care is the incredible rate of growth in the nation’s average medical liability award, up 107 percent in five years from $1.9 million in 1996 to $3.9 million in 2001. In Oklahoma, jury awards have increased approximately 250 percent since 1999. While plaintiff attorneys rake in huge fees from soaring jury awards, injured patients walk away with pennies—usually less than 50 cents on the dollar.

“Oklahoma can stem the tide of this impending crisis. The AMA urges lawmakers to act now to safeguard patients’ access to health care by restoring common sense to the legal system.”

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