AAFP Statement: American Academy of Family Physicians Supports Federal Legislation on Medical Liability Insurance

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Statement attributable to
Michael O. Fleming, M.D., FAAFP
President, AAFP

"The American Academy of Family Physicians supports The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act because it would establish a federal standard for medical liability trials. The AAFP appreciates the continued priority that House leaders have placed on passage of these reforms in the 108th Congress.

"This legislation would balance the need to appropriately compensate those patients who have been wrongfully harmed against the need for all Americans to have a doctor available to them when they need medical care.

"H.R. 4280, the HEALTH Act of 2004 provides:
• $250,000 limit on non-economic damages;
• Proportionate liability among all parties; and
• Limits on attorney fees.
"The HEALTH Act would bring badly needed stability back to the medical liability market. These measures have a proven track record. In the 27 years since similar reforms were instituted in California, medical liability insurance premiums have risen 505 percent nationwide compared with California's increases of 167 percent.

"When physicians cannot afford or obtain medical liability insurance coverage, they are forced either to close or limit the scope of their practice. In June 2003, a survey sampling the AAFP membership found that 7.5 percent planned to stop delivering babies as a result of rising malpractice insurance premiums. Another 10.7 percent planned to stop performing other procedures, and 7 percent planned to retire or leave practice. When this happens, patients are left with fewer choices and may have to travel much farther to get the treatment they need.

"Insurance premium increases aren't a measure of medical skill. Physicians who have never had a malpractice suit filed against them are still being subjected to huge premium increases.

"Medical errors do happen, and they are regrettable. The right to seek redress in court is a basic principle in the United States. But one person's right to sue should not be protected at the expense of another's ability to see a doctor when medical care is needed. That ability can be limited when physicians leave practice because they can't afford their insurance premiums.

"The AAFP urges the Senate to join the House in supporting these reforms to the professional liability system."

To interview Dr. Fleming, please contact Leslie Champlin at (800) 274-2237, Ext.5224 or by e-mail at lchampli@aafp.org.

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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 129,000 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.

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