Today's News

Thursday, March 11, 2004

DMLR advocates federal medical liability reform legislation

By Mary Ann Porucznik


Stuart L. Weinstein, MD
At the launch of the national media campaign by Doctors for Medical Liability Reform (DMLR) on Feb. 10, Stuart L. Weinstein, MD-second vice president of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons and chair of the AAOS Medical Liabilty Reform Spending Oversight Committee-addressed the nation.

"I am here," he said, "representing a membership of almost 26,000 orthopaedic surgeons who are committed to providing the best health care. We passionately care about our patients. I am very fearful that patient access to orthopaedic care is now in jeopardy because of a medical liability crisis that is sweeping our nation state by state.

"According to a Centers for Disease Control study issued less than one year ago, 40 percent of disabilities in the United States are musculoskeletal-related. Conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, spinal disorders, soft-tissue injuries and major trauma confront Americans every day.

"Across the country," he continued, "surgical practices and emergency rooms are closing or reducing their hours available to patients due to the substantially increased rates in medical liability insurance premiums, compounded by the unavailability of insurers willing to provide coverage."

Dr. Weinstein, a pediatric orthopaedist and pediatric spinal deformities surgeon, Ignacio V. Ponseti Chair and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Iowa and vice chair of the DMLR, noted that no one-including himself-is immune from this crisis. "While I do not practice in a crisis state and I work in a university setting, my liability premiums last year still increased by 400 percent."

Speciality physicians united

The DMLR is a coalition of specialty physician organizations, which together represent more than 230,000 specialty physicians. In addition to the AAOS, the DMLR membership includes: Neurosurgeons to Preserve Health Care Access; American College of Emergency Physicians; Society of Thoracic Surgeons; American College of Surgeons Professional Association; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American College of Cardiology; American Academy of Dermatology Association; National Association of Spine Specialists and American Urological Association.

The DMLR's Protect Patients Now initiative seeks to educate and inform patients, physicians, business leaders and legislators about the destructive effects that this crisis is having on the nation's health care and the national economy. The initiative will highlight states that are facing serious health care and economic crises, including Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington.

In crisis states with U.S. senatorial races, DMLR asks that candidates sign a pledge to protect patients by supporting medical liability reform, "seeking passage of federal legislation that would include an effective limit on noneconomic damages, also known as 'pain and suffering.'" The pledge specifies that the cap will not limit economic compensation awarded for lost income, inability to work, long-term care or medical expenses.

Multi-faceted campaign

The campaign uses both print and television advertising, Internet technology and individual efforts to make its point. Print ads have already appeared in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. One ad cautions businesses, "Before you move in, look who's moving out." It depicts a line of health care workers leaving Washington state, a move that not only creates "an escalating scarcity of access to health care," but also poses "serious consequences that can be unhealthy for your workforce and your bottom line." Since 1998, the Washington State Medical Association has seen a 31 percent increase in the number of its physician members moving out of state.

A second ad notes: "The House passed it, the President supports it, patients need it and doctors must have it. So why are a few U.S. Senators holding liability reform hostage?" Both ads call for senators and candidates campaigning for Senate seats to sign a pledge to support federal medical liability reform.

In addition to print ads, DMLR is sponsoring 30-minute television newsmagazine programs that will air statewide in selected states. The programs feature physicians, patients, public officials and concerned citizens who tell the true story of the crisis. During the program, viewers are asked to call their senators and urge them to support federal medical liability reform legislation.

A Web site, www.ProtectPatientsNow.org, includes several interactive features for patients, physicians and the medial. Scrolling headlines, a state-by-state analysis; an archive of facts, statistics and studies; an e-mail news alert service and opportunities to get directly involved can all be found on the site.

The time to act

"The AAOS has joined with other medical specialties because the time to act is now. When we are witnessing orthopaedic surgeons limiting their scope of practice, retiring or leaving certain states altogether, we are gravely concerned about maintaining timely, necessary, appropriate and quality orthopaedic care," said Dr. Weinstein. There has never been a better opportunity to achieve medical liability reform. But the opportunity will not last forever."

Here, at the Annual Meeting, you can visit the Medical Liability Reform Campaign booth located near the registration center in Moscone West. If you have questions or comments regarding this initiative, you may also contact Kathryn Pontzer, Deputy Director of the AAOS Washington Office at pontzer@aaos.org, or call (202) 546-4430.

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Last modified 01/March/2004