Medical Liability Reform

AGA POSITION: Congress must pass meaningful medical liability reform legislation.

 

The Medical Liability System is in Crisis

The AGA strongly believes that our nation's medical liability system is in crisis and presents an untenable situation where patients across the country no longer have access to critical health-care services. The medical liability crisis in America continues to impact physicians of all specialties and patients, and gastroenterologists and the patients they treat are no exception.

The rising costs in medical liability premiums are causing severe access-to-care issues for patients across the country; trauma centers, emergency rooms and obstetrician-gynecological practices shut their doors because they can no longer afford the cost or risk of treating patients. Some gastroenterologists have also been forced to relocate to different states where the premiums are not as expensive and where they can afford to sustain their practices. This crisis is in desperate need of a solution.

Legislative Solution

The AGA calls on Congress to pass meaningful medical liability reform legislation that ensures patient access to timely and needed specialty care. Legislation must also include the principle that injured patients deserve their day in court and that they are entitled to receive full, just and fair compensation. Congress should adopt medical liability reforms that strike a balance between compensating injured patients and ensuring access to health care for all Americans.

Therefore, the AGA recommends that the following principles must be included in any meaningful medical liability reform legislation:

  • Compensating patient injury. Patients injured by medical negligence should receive full and fair compensation for their economic damages, including medical care and lost wages. However, a reasonable limit should be established on recovery of non-economic damages, or pain and suffering, which are highly subjective and unpredictable, making it very difficult for insurers to adequately predict and insure against these losses. Reform legislation must include an effective and reasonable cap on non-economic damages.
  • Limits on contingency fees. Reforms that included limits on contingency fee agreements, such as a sliding-scale for attorney contingency fees, would assure that patients are being properly compensated and will help discourage baseless lawsuits.
  • Statute of limitations. Enacting reasonable statute of limitations reform promotes speedy resolution of claims, ensures that evidence is not destroyed, and allows witnesses to be available with accurate accounts of events. Furthermore, a reasonable statute of limitations makes certain that health-care providers have access to evidence to defend themselves.
  • Expert witness reform. Reform legislation should include provisions that ensure that physicians serving as expert witnesses are educated and trained in the same or similar specialty as the defendant, and who are substantially familiar with the applicable standards of care and practice related to the subject matter of the lawsuit.
  • Limiting frivolous lawsuits. Legislation must include provisions that reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits, such as pre-litigation screening panels, alternative dispute resolution, certificates of merit and other methods that encourage quick settlement of cases before they go to court.
  • Insurance stability. Congress should examine the impact of the medical liability insurance industry and its rate-setting policies on the rise of liability premiums and identify any changes that would ensure a stable medical liability insurance marketplace.
  • Protection of states' rights. Federal medical liability reform should not preempt strong state reform laws.
Recommended Action by AGA

AGA strongly urges Congress to enact meaningful, comprehensive medical liability reform that ensures patients timely access to needed specialty care, fairly compensates injured patients and stabilizes medical liability premiums so that physicians can continue to provide quality medical care to their patients.

March 2015