August 2003 Bulletin
Not sure about contributing to the campaign?
By Robert Fine, JD, CAE and David A. Lovett, JD
Some AAOS members have questions about the Medical Liability Reform Campaign and want to better understand what AAOS hopes to accomplish before making contributions to support the effort. Following are responses to some of the most common misconceptions about the campaign:
- Any federally-passed law is going to weaken the laws in my own state.
The biggest challenge is to make sure that any federal law will not weaken state laws. The AAOS is working to make sure that strong state laws are not jeopardized by any Federal legislative initiative.
- We can't win at the federal level, so why should I contribute?
Although it is uphill battle, the time has never been better for action. The President and the Republican leadership of both chambers of Congress support medical liability reform. This is not something that will be achieved by the end of the year, but we must start now.
- Passing liability reform is hopeless in my state.
This is the strongest reason to support liability reform at the federal level.
- My state does not really have a problem.
Your state may not have a problem now, but it can in the future. Orthopaedic surgeons from crisis states have already begun relocating to states that do not have problems. If this liability situation is not corrected, there may be a significant oversupply of orthopaedic surgeons in states that have not been experiencing a crisis.
- I am in an academic institution, and this is not an issue for me.
Especially in states that are in crisis, orthopaedic surgeons in private practice are restricting the care they provide. More difficult and complicated cases, which may expose the physician to more liability risk, are increasingly being sent to academic health centers for treatment. This will significantly increase the costs and liability risks to these institutions. This medical liability crisis affects everyone.
- Even if we pass laws, they will be challenged on constitutional grounds in the courts.
It is not likely that a constitutional challenge to a federal law will succeed. (Similar laws have been upheld under the "Commerce Clause" of the U.S. Constitution.) However, state challenges have been successful. For this reason, states such as Texas have been considering constitutional amendments to prevent such challenges. The AAOS Medical Liability Reform Campaign made a $75,000 grant to Texas to help win approval for a constitutional amendment.
- We can never raise the money the trial lawyers are contributing to fight tort reform.
It is true that the trial lawyers have been spending millions of dollars on defeating every reform effort. However, every public opinion poll has shown that a vast majority of the American people believe that there is a problem with runaway verdicts and frivolous lawsuits. With the public already on our side, we need to devote our resources to moving legislators into action. It is not how much we raise but what we do with our resources that can make the difference.
Robert Fine, JD, CAE, is director, department of socioeconomic and state society affairs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. David A. Lovett, JD, is director of the AAOS Washington office. He can be reached at email@example.com