Photo:This week in an AMA National House Call, AMA President John C. Nelson, MD, MPH (right) and Wyoming Medical Society President Rob Monger, MD, spoke on “Cheyenne Today” radio program.
In Oregon, a “Yes on 35” Campaign has been in full swing for many months. Ballot Measure 35 would amend the constitution to establish a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases. In 1987, a $500,000 cap was first placed on noneconomic damages in Oregon to avoid a crisis similar to the one occurring today. Almost immediately following the cap, medical liability insurance premiums stabilized — and even declined. However, in 1999, patients found their access to care jeopardized once again, when the Oregon State Supreme Court overturned the cap. (Read the cover story of the September/October issue of AMA Voice to learn more.)
Earlier this month, on Oct. 13, the AMA National House Call joined a group called Oregonians for Quality, Affordable and Reliable Health Care for a rally in support of the Measure 35 in downtown Portland. During the rally, AMA Past President Thomas R. Reardon, MD, joined emergency physician and Oregon Medical Association President John Moorhead, MD, and scores of other Oregon physicians, nurses and health care professionals to speak out in support of the measure to re-establish a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases, and stabilize out-of-control medical liability insurance premiums.
A day later, OB/Gyn and AMA member Katherine Leigh Hilsinger, MD, said she was honored to have been given the opportunity to travel with President George W. Bush via motorcade from Medford, OR, to Jacksonville, OR, in support of Ballot Measure 35. The Bush/Cheney Campaign had contacted Dr. Hilsinger because, as an OB/Gyn in a crisis state, she is one of the physicians most in need of medical liability reform.
“I practice in a rural town and some of my patients drive two and a half hours to see me,” she said. “My job as a woman and a doctor is to be an advocate for my patients. ” However, she told President Bush, “We must practice defensive medicine in case we get sued, so we wind up ordering a lot of expensive tests,” further driving up the costs of health care.
Across the country in Florida, a “yes” vote on Ballot Measure 3 would amend the state constitution and limit the contingency fees attorneys receive in medical liability cases. Currently, a personal injury lawyer in Florida can receive as much as 50 percent of the money intended for patients. Ballot Measure 3 would mean the patient is entitled to no less than 70 percent of the first $250,000 and 90 percent of any damage award over $250,000.
Fourth-year University of South Florida College of Medicine student T.J. Slavin said physicians and medical students alike are hopeful for a positive outcome at the polls as a result of their strong campaigning efforts.
“There are ‘Yes on 3’ signs at pretty much any hospital you drive by now and on street corners, too,” said Slavin, who last year served as chair of the Florida Medical Association’s AMA-Medical Student Section. And on Nov. 2, Slavin said medical students statewide plan to show up at polling places dressed in scrubs in a joint effort to educate voters and push for true medical liability reform.
AMA member Alejandro Badia, MD, a Miami hand surgeon and Dade County Medical Society representative, lobbied vigorously to get Measure 3 on the Nov. 2 ballot in Florida, even visiting his state capitol to increase public awareness of this critical issue.
On Nov. 2, Dr. Badia said, the people of Florida “will have an opportunity to express their concern and outrage over the current faults in the medical liability system in place.” By limiting the amount of money an attorney can collect in a malpractice settlement or judgment, the injured patient can collect the majority of the money that they deserve and may need, he said. Dr. Badia also believes it will lead to a decrease in frivolous lawsuits against physicians, thereby leading to improved access to care for all.
In terms of campaigning for Ballot Measure 3, Dr. Badia said the local county medical societies have provided posters urging patients to vote “Yes on 3” and “no” on attorney-driven amendments.
“It is more critical to have an able oncologist than a malpractice attorney when one is stricken with a fearful disease,” Dr. Badia said. “Florida’s health care is about to suffer sudden cardiac death. It needs resuscitation…and not by a lawyer.”
Two other states also have critical votes coming up on Nov. 2. In Nevada, a “yes” vote on Ballot Question 3 would amend Nevada’s existing medical liability reform law by deleting exceptions to the $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases, strengthening the existing joint and several liability reform law by applying it to both economic and noneconomic damages, requiring periodic payment of future damages over $50,000, placing limits on attorney contingency fees and strengthening Nevada’s existing statute of limitations.
Lastly, in Wyoming, a “yes” vote on Amendment D would amend the state constitution to allow the Wyoming Legislature to enact caps on noneconomic damages.
All citizens are encouraged to join America’s Patient Action Network, which in recent months has worked to encourage the public to research candidates’ records and urged them to vote.