Nearly 20 years ago, shopping for juries to hear medical malpractice cases made it extremely difficult for doctors to continue practicing medicine in the Commonwealth. We could face the same situation again if the state Supreme Court changes a successful rule that required cases to be heard in counties where the allegations took place.
In the early 2000s, the situation was so bad that some physicians couldn’t find malpractice insurance and others decided they couldn’t afford to see their patients. The hardest hit doctors were those in medical specialties, such as OB-GYNs, orthopedists, and neurologists. Many of those doctors who couldn’t find or afford insurance left their practices, moved to other states, or retired completely. This resulted in higher health care costs overall for patients, and access to health care suffered statewide.
This was the direct result of medical malpractice civil lawsuits from all over Pennsylvania being sent to Philadelphia for trial, even if none of the malpractice allegations actually took place there. Some doctors and their patients were forced to travel hours away from their home counties to litigate malpractice allegations in a city they may have never set foot in during their entire lifetime. And, you might be thinking why Philadelphia? Well, it’s no secret that Philadelphia juries routinely awarded substantially higher payouts compared to other counties.
At the time, all three branches of state government – the executive, legislative, and judicial – worked together to enact a series of legal reforms to aid patients. One of the reforms prohibited plaintiffs’ lawyers in medical malpractice cases from shopping around for a court venue. Then in 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a rule that mirrors one of those key reforms. The court decided that medical malpractice cases must be brought in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred.
The change in the rules worked and insurance rates stabilized. The number of medical malpractice lawsuits brought in Philadelphia dropped 66 percent, clearly showing that medical malpractice cases that occurred in other counties had been inappropriately sent there.
York Countians are fortunate to have a variety of heath care providers and facilities in the area. It’s rare for a county such as ours to have three hospitals and numerous additional medical facilities. UPMC Pinnacle Hanover hospital recently completed an expansion of its new Cardiac Catheterization Lab and WellSpan’s new Hanover Health and Surgery Center will be open to patients in just a few short weeks. These projects and existing facilities allow residents to the receive top-notch care they need close to home.
However, all this is at risk as the state Supreme Court is considering reverting back to the system that helped drive doctors out of Pennsylvania. I’m having a hard time understanding why the court wants to undo such good work. I have never heard from a resident who said he or she was denied justice because of the decades-old rule change. I have my suspicions of the motivation behind why this change is being considered, and sadly, politics is at the top of the list.
Access to health care shouldn’t be political. Patients must not be used as pawns. If this proposal goes through, I fear that health care may go back into crisis mode. Patients may lose established relationships with doctors. Advances in medicine could be stymied. And hospitals and long-term care facilities may face cutbacks and closures.
As a new mother, I couldn’t imagine being forced to drive an hour or more to get care for my daughter or myself. But that could be the sad reality if the court changes its rules.
Though this rule change is being considered, there’s still time to ensure you have continued access to health care. Visit www.PAGOPPolicy.com
before Feb. 22 to leave a comment about how a reversal of this rule could interfere with the care you and your family receive. The more the court hears from patients who have a vested interest in the outcome, we hope the more it will listen.
You can save our health care. Make your voice heard.
?Representative Kate A. Klunk
169th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross