Medical Liability Reform Focus of Letter to Supercommittee

AAFP Signs on to AMA Letter Along With 107 Other Groups

October 07, 2011 05:15 pm News Staff

The AAFP has put its signature on an AMA-circulated letter( that calls on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the "supercommittee," to include meaningful medical liability reform in the final legislative package approved by the committee.

"Reforming our costly, inefficient and unfair liability system will save American taxpayers billions of dollars while protecting patient access to care," says the letter, which was signed by 109 state and specialty medical societies and sent to members of the supercommittee. "The Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing comprehensive medical liability reforms, including limits on noneconomic damages, would reduce the federal budget deficit by $62.4 billion over 10 years."

The letter also notes that last December, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform recommended that medical liability reform be a part of any solution designed to reduce the federal budget deficit.

"We agree and strongly support liability reforms at the federal level that have a proven track record of success like those enacted in California and Texas, as well as supplemental reforms," the letter says.

Congress created the bipartisan supercommittee to develop a plan to achieve reductions in the federal deficit. If the government fails to enact the committee's recommendations by Dec. 23, across-the-board cuts totaling $1.2 trillion will be automatically triggered and scheduled to go into effect in 2013.

In the letter, the AAFP, the AMA and the other groups decry the inefficiencies in the current medical liability system. "Escalating and unpredictable awards and the high cost of defending against lawsuits, including those without merit, contribute to the increase in medical liability insurance premiums and add billions of dollars to the cost of health care each year." This leads to higher spending on federal health benefits programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, which means higher costs for patients, according to the letter.

The groups called on the supercommittee to take steps to protect the right of individual states to maintain or enact effective reforms, and asked the committee to include the following liability reforms in its final legislative recommendations:

  • "a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages;
  • collateral source rule reform by allowing evidence of outside payments to be submitted in court and a ban on subrogation by certain collateral sources;
  • language from H.R. 816, the 'Provider Shield Act of 2011,' that would prohibit new causes of action against physicians and other health care providers based on standards or guidelines specified in the (Patient Protection and) Affordable Care Act;
  • liability protections for physicians and other health care providers so that evidence of nonpayment or payment adjustments based on CMS policies would be inadmissible as evidence in a liability claim or lawsuit to prove liability or establish a presumption of liability on behalf of a physician or other health care provider;
  • liability protections for physicians and other health care providers who provide emergency care or volunteer to treat victims of a disaster by requiring clear and convincing burden of proof; and
  • reforms to require an individual who serves as an expert witness in liability cases to meet standards of expertise and knowledge."