AAOS Bulletin - August, 2005

Update on medical liability reform

AAOS and DMLR prepare for phase II

By Stuart L. Weinstein, MD

Although Congress—particularly the Senate—has been focused on the President’s judicial appointments, medical liability is still on the agenda for the Congressional Leadership. At a recent news conference, Senators Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) stressed the importance of achieving the liability reform agenda in this Congress.

During the last week in July, the House of Representatives once again approved medical liability reform legislation by a vote of 230 to 194. The bill they approved is identical to legislation that was considered and approved by the House during the last Congress. The vote sets the stage for similar legislation to be brought to the floor of the Senate when it reconvenes in September. It also reinforces the significance of the Senate’s role in the passage of federal medical liability reform.

DMLR campaign plans

Doctors for Medical Liability Reform (DMLR) had a very successful planning meeting in Washington, D.C., in May 2005 to map out a strategy for the fall legislative session and the 2006 election cycle.

Our plans call for an aggressive, nationwide campaign with specific focus on key Senate races. All DMLR member organizations are currently planning fundraising efforts for this congressional cycle. I will keep you posted on the campaign as developments are released.

As many of you know, Rhode Island was added to the list of crisis states this spring. More importantly, the overturning of Wisconsin’s liability statute this spring shows that no state is “safe.” State level reforms will always be at risk until we achieve liability reform at the federal level.

AAOS commitment

As you know from previous articles, the AAOS as an organization has made a total organizational commitment to continue the fight for medical liability reform over the next two years. The Board voted to spend more than $700,000 this year to support both the DMLR effort at the federal level, and state orthopaedic society efforts in the battle at the state level in “tipping point” states.

Thus far this year, the AAOS has awarded a grant to the Maine Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons. We also anticipate supporting the Washington State Orthopaedic Society in its efforts with the Washington State Medical Society on a November ballot initiative. If approved by voters, Washington’s Initiative 330 would restrict non-economic damages to between $350,000 and $1,050,000; change the statute of limitations for filing claim on behalf of a minor child; limit attorneys’ fees according to a set schedule; modify the joint and several liability laws so that defendants are held strictly accountable for their share of liability in contributing to their own injury; and change the vicarious liability statute so that hospitals, doctors and other health care providers are responsible for only their own share, or their employees’ share, of liability.

The Board also voted to contribute $1 million from AAOS reserves to fight the battle in the 2006 election cycle. The important caveat with this contribution is that it is a dollar-to-dollar match with member contributions.

The fundraising campaign will be introduced soon. It will be very important for each and everyone of us to “step up to the plate” and contribute. Even members who live in so called “safe states” must now realize that, without a federal solution, no state law is truly safe.

We will use every AAOS communication vehicle to keep the fellowship informed about what is happening in the area of medical liability reform. We ask that when you are called about contributing, please join the effort to achieve federal reform with your donation. The success of phase II will depend upon your contribution.

AAOS President Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, is the current chair of Doctors for Medical Liability Reform.

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