Coalition Urges Fla. Lawmakers to Act on Gov.’s Call for Medical Liability Reforms

March 7, 2003

Florida lawmakers must act on Governor Jeb Bush’s call for medical liability system reforms—including a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages—in order to end a crisis that is driving up healthcare costs and eroding the public’s access to care, according to leaders of a broad-based coalition that includes the Florida Hospital Association (FHA).

During his annual State of the State message to a joint session of the Florida Legislature, Bush identified the medical liability crisis as one of the key issues “that continue to place Florida at a competitive disadvantage with other states” working toward a national economic recovery.

“The high cost of medical malpractice insurance—or the lack of it altogether—has created a crisis in our state,” Bush said. “This crisis is not about costs, although ours are among the highest in the nation. This crisis is about the quality and availability of healthcare for our people.”

Bush told lawmakers he supports comprehensive reforms modeled on the 60 recommendations made in January by the Select Task Force on Healthcare Professional Liability Insurance.

“We should improve quality, monitor outcomes, and discipline providers who commit negligence,” Bush said. “We should also enact a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. This cap will limit runaway verdicts and prevent more talented and dedicated caretakers from leaving our state.”

Bush’s call for a comprehensive fix was applauded by Wayne NeSmith, FHA president and a leader of the Coalition to Heal Healthcare in Florida. The coalition, spearheaded by the FHA and the Florida Medical Association, is a broad-based alliance of more than 100 of the state’s top medical and business groups that has been urging state lawmakers to fix the broken medical liability system in 2003.

“Governor Bush clearly recognizes that this crisis is already hurting Floridians because it is driving up healthcare costs for all of us and threatening our citizens’ ability to obtain medical services,” NeSmith said. “State lawmakers must recognize this too and heed our governor’s call to action. They must help solve this crisis before there’s a medical meltdown in this state.”

NeSmith noted that Bush’s push for a comprehensive solution mirrors what the coalition has been telling state lawmakers for months—that the crisis can be eased by improving patient safety, stabilizing the insurance market, and creating more reasonable parameters for liability lawsuits and for compensating injured patients.

“Lawmakers must understand they cannot simply sit back, fail to enact significant reforms and allow this crisis to fester for yet another year,” NeSmith added. “We need their help now. We can achieve fair reform that compensates injured patients while protecting healthcare for all of us if we work together.”

During his address, Bush noted that Orlando Regional Medical Center “will no longer accept head and multiple trauma victims because it can no longer guarantee emergency neurosurgery coverage.” Last week, Orlando Regional Healthcare announced it may suspend Level 1 trauma services on April 1 due to a shortage of neurosurgeons related to the medical liability crisis.

“Three hospitals in the Tampa Bay area have closed their obstetrics units, leaving women with fewer choices and less access,” Bush added. “Wait times for mammography services have more than tripled. Many physicians have left our state, and many others, especially in South Florida, are practicing with no liability insurance at all.”

Bush told other anecdotes during the State of the State address that NeSmith said are examples of what is really happening around the state.

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