June 2003 Bulletin

AAOS medical liability reform campaign moves forward

By Stuart L. Weinstein, MD

Recently, when AAOS President James H. Herndon, MD, wrote to the Fellowship and requested a $1,000 voluntary contribution in order to respond to the medical liability crisis, this step was the continuation of a long battle our Association has engaged in to secure federal and state medical liability reform

This issue has always been a top priority for the AAOS, and our position has not wavered. The Association serves on the Board of Directors of the Health Coalition for Liability and Access (HCLA), the leading Coalition promoting tort reform in Washington, DC. Through our efforts, by joining with other medical societies, the U.S. House of Representatives has repeatedly approved medical liability reform. Unfortunately, the Senate has not. At present, there are only 47 solid votes in favor of reforms, such as those in California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), including the all-important cap on noneconomic damages of $250,000. There is no Democratic Senator who has stepped forward to lead the charge on this issue. A few Senators, however, such as Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have expressed support for achieving a legislative compromise that may move other Democratic Senators to favor some type of federal tort reform.

Under archaic rules of the Senate, we need 60 votes to close debate and have a vote on liability reform. Our ultimate objective is to have Federal medical liability reform enacted into public law. But this goal is not going to be easy to achieve and it may take several years. There are more immediate objectives.

In preliminary meetings, the AAOS leadership has joined with other high-risk medical specialties to take bold action. As you know, the Association has committed $1 million to this initiative, and we are also asking for the help of the membership. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons has joined with us in a unified plan, and we are hopeful that during meetings in late June, other medical specialties will also add their names and their resources to our campaign.

How funds will be spent

As Chairman of the Medical Liability Reform Spending Oversight Committee, I wanted to share with you our plan as to what we are going to do with your money. First of all, there has been some confusion as to the purpose of this AAOS Medical Liability Fund in contrast to the activities of the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (PAC). The sole purpose of the AAOS PAC is to make contributions to candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to help them get elected and re-elected. Certainly, the PAC will support candidates who are in favor of liability reform, and the Orthopaedic PAC’s activities will be coordinated with the other activities of the Association.

In contrast, the AAOS Medical Liability Fund will be used to educate the public, Congress and state legislatures for the need for medical liability reform. At the federal level, some of the Association’s planned activities will be to engage in patient outreach and to develop material to be used in the orthopaedic surgeon’s office. We are also planning to develop television and radio commercials to highlight how the liability crisis has adversely affected access to care. As a part of this effort, we will be identifying compelling patient stories.

With limited resources, we will be very strategic in targeting our message. Depending on how many other medical societies join us, we will be able to determine the extent of our campaign. Needless to say, the medical community has already identified key Republican Senators that we need to shore-up support for liability reform, and Democratic Senators who may be more sympathetic to some type of liability reform. The states that are represented by these Senators will be the focus of our efforts. As a part of this approach, we will be identifying orthopaedic surgeons that have special relationships with these senators. Some of these individuals already have been the focus of the Orthopaedic PAC’s activities. If we are able to convince even a few Democratic Senators to support our cause, we have taken a needed step closer to meaningful liability reform.

Also, there will be a state legislative component to our campaign. State orthopaedic societies can apply to the AAOS Board of Councilors’ State Societies Committee to receive a grant to aid in state activities to secure liability reform. Naturally, there may be some overlap in our efforts, since it is possible that some of these states also have Senators that may be the target of our federal effort.

As this initiative moves forward, we will keep the Fellowship regularly informed of all federal and state liability reform developments as well as the Association’s activities through Bulletin articles, in AAOS Headline News, AAOS Report and through other communications mechanisms.

Contributions still needed

We are gratified that, as we went to press, 836 of our members have contributed a total of $601,365 thus far to our campaign. A list of those contributors can be found on the following pages.

However, we still need your help in funding this. If you have not already done so, please send your contribution for this effort today; $1,000 is the suggested contribution, but any amount is welcome. Your checks, either personal or corporate, should be made payable to: American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons and sent to 6300 N.River Road Rosemont, IL 60018.

The Orthopaedic PAC also welcomes your contributions to aid in its political activities. Those checks should be made payable to: Political Action Committee of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons and sent to: P.O. Box 2748, Des Plaines, IL 60019-8701.

Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, is second vice president of the AAOS and chair of the Medical Liability Reform Spending Oversight Committee.

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