June 2002 Bulletin

Pennsylvania governor signs liability reform legislation

By Carolyn Rogers

Patient access to specialty care is a growing problem in a number of states, as substantial increases in professional medical liability premium rates are forcing specialists to limit or close their practices. The governor of Pennsylvania–one of the states hardest hit by escalating professional medical liability insurance rates–recently signed legislation to address the growing crisis.

The compromise legislation, known as Act 13, allows judgments of more than $100,000 for patients’ future medical costs to be spread out over time, and takes $40 million a year for the next 10 years out of the state’s Automobile Liability Catastrophe Loss (CAT) Fund to lower doctors’ insurance rates in Pennsylvania.

Act 13 also allows a judge to lower a verdict if it would force a physician out of business or force a hospital to cut services, thereby damaging the community, and eliminates the duplication of recovery for past medical expenses. Governor Mark Schweiker signed the Act, which took effect immediately, on March 20.

"Pennsylvania’s medical-malpractice dilemma wasn’t really about doctors or hospitals or insurance companies and claims," says Gov. Schweiker. "It was about keeping the road to quality health care open and accessible."

State officials say the reforms will save doctors as much as 20 percent on insurance premiums and provide strong new patient safety measures. Missing from the bill were key measures such as a cap on non-economic damages and "joint and several" liability.

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