October 2003 Bulletin

News from the federal front—Senate expected to vote again on liability reform in fall of 2003

By Kathryn M. Pontzer, JD

In an attempt to continue elevating the need for medical liability reform legislation, the Senate Republican leadership has recently indicated that they will schedule a series of votes on incremental bills, beginning with tort reforms for obstetric services followed by protections for trauma services. Having failed in negotiations with Democratic senators, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), to seek support for a compromise package of reforms, Republicans believe a more focused debate highlighting particular areas of the liability crisis could help to put more pressure on Democratic senators to respond to the crisis.

AAOS and the Alliance of Specialty Medicine, an umbrella organization representing over 170,000 physicians in the United States, joined in a letter with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other medical associations, thanking Senate Republican leaders for their continued attempts to highlight the medical liability crisis but urging that Congress must pass, and the President must sign, legislation that will solve the crisis for all physician and patients. The letter indicated that no one element of reform is enough to solve the enormous medical liability crisis facing America but acknowledged that medical liability reform for obstetric care is one step toward a goal of enacting national medical liability reform for all physicians and patients.

AAOS and the Alliance of Specialty Medicine met with key Senate Republican leadership and committee staff to discuss both policy and political concerns related to a proposed draft of the obstetric bill, which is expected to be introduced soon. The Senate is targeting mid to late-October for bringing this legislation to the Senate floor for
a vote.

Comprehensive approached preferred

The AAOS is concerned with an incremental approach, and prefers to have medical liability reform addressed in as comprehensive way as possible at the federal level. However, any legislative activity that helps to move a liability bill into a conference with the House is most welcomed, and provides the vehicle to bring a House-Senate Conference Report back to both chambers with a bill that contains broader language.

Unlike legislation first brought to the Senate for consideration, a House-Senate Conference Report only needs a 51 senator majority for passage. (To get a bill initially approved in the Senate, a prerequisite for any House-Senate Conference consideration, it takes a 60 member majority vote).

Coalition moves forward

In the meantime, the national liability reform coalition has been formalized and will be incorporated as Doctors for Medical Liability Reform (DMLR). During the next few months, the DMLR will launch a public education effort to encourage passage of medical liability reform legislation.

In the last few months, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) has joined this effort, and has also pledged a contribution of $1 million. Today, five medical societies have each committed to contributing $1 million. In addition to the ACS, these groups include: the AAOS, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and the American College of Emergency Physicians. The American College of Cardiology has committed $500,000, and North American Spine Society has contributed $100,000.

Kathryn M. Pontzer, J.D., is deputy director of the AAOS Washington office. She can be reached at pontzer@aaos.org

Your help needed

To date, 1085 members have donated $779,915 to the AAOS medical liability reform campaign. But more is needed to meet the target of $3 million.

Contributions of all denominations are welcome, although $1,000 is the suggested amount. Your personal or corporate check should be written to American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons and sent directly to:

American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons
6300 N. River Road
Rosemont, IL 60018
Attn: Professional Liability Initiative


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