PA Supreme Court’s medical malpractice rule change will impact patients and health care
Gettysburg Times, The (PA)
Twenty years ago, medical malpractice insurance premiums across the commonwealth were skyrocketing. As a result, many doctors were discontinuing or reducing the number of high-risk procedures and surgeries they performed, and our state had difficulty recruiting and retaining physicians. Thankfully, this was able to be corrected through legislation. Unfortunately, now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wants to reinstitute rules that threaten health care accessibility and affordability, a decision with hefty consequences.
In August, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that beginning Jan. 1, 2023, trial lawyers can resume filing medical malpractice cases in any county in the state. This will eliminate a 20-year moratorium on the practice of venue shopping, which is the practice of filing lawsuits in jurisdictions where juries award larger payouts.
Venue shopping resulted in obscenely high verdicts, with doctors and health care systems seeing substantial increases to their medical malpractice premiums. This severely threated access to care, particularly in rural parts of the state. In some cases, doctors were forced to reduce high-risk procedures or close their practices altogether, as insurance became unaffordable. Some relocated to states with environments more friendly to practitioners.
To address the issue, the General Assembly passed Act 127 of 2002 and eliminated the practice of venue shopping. However, the state Supreme Court's recent announcement threatens health care systems, physicians, and patients as venue shopping will once again be allowed.
Last week, I attended a House Majority Policy Committee hearing on this issue. During the meeting, we heard from many testifiers who detailed the potential consequences of this decision.
During the hearing, we heard from a chief physician executive at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and a board member of the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine. He projected hospitals in Lancaster County could expect to see a premium rate increase ranging from 36% to 73%. That analysis also projected a premium increase ranging from 41% to 82% for physicians.
This rule change threatens the continued availability and affordability of professional liability insurance, the training and retention of new physicians, and full access to quality health care for the residents of Pennsylvania, not just in Lancaster County, but across the commonwealth.
The president and chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association also offered testimony. He cautioned that allowing venue shopping for medical malpractice cases will destroy the industry in a post-pandemic environment. It will ultimately drive-up costs, and result in fewer resources to provide high-quality care and access to care. These necessities could be needlessly put at risk by this court decision.
If the practice of venue shopping is reinstated, our state will see high-risk specialties like orthopedists, neurosurgeons and trauma surgeons discontinue high-risk procedures, OB/Gyns may stop delivering babies and patients may have more difficulty accessing care. We will see an exodus of our existing healthcare institutions, especially in rural areas where options for care may already be limited.
This cannot happen again. There is much to be done if we are to preserve the access to care and its affordability in our state. I intend to support and advocate for efforts against this ruling using all the legislative resources accessible to members of the General Assembly, including the possibility of a proposed constitutional amendment. It is hard to believe the court has not learned from its past mistakes, but I intend to join with my colleagues in ensuring we preserve our healthcare system in Pennsylvania.