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Professional Liability Reform Vital as Medical Practices Lose Coverage, Close Doors

July 22, 2002

Common Sense Reforms Supported by Doctors of Internal Medicine

(Washington, DC) Runaway professional liability premiums are forcing medical practices to cut high-risk services and leave some states altogether because they can no longer afford to obtain professional liability insurance, according to a statement by the American College of Physicians - American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM) on July 17th, 2002, before the House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

The ACP-ASIM urged the Subcommittee to pass reforms contained in the "Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care" (HEALTH) Act of 2002 (H.R. 4600) before patients across the nation find they can no longer find the medical care they need. The testimony warns that regional reports of physician offices and emergency rooms closing their doors are likely to continue and potentially increase as premiums continue to escalate and insurers drop coverage altogether.

Internists have been hard hit with an average increase in premiums of nearly 50 percent in three years, according to the statement. In some cases, physicians, even those without a track record of lawsuits, can no longer find an insurance company willing to provide coverage. Other physicians are being forced to decide whether to dig deeper and pay steeper bills, change carriers, move out of state, or retire from the practice of medicine.

At a time when the market is squeezing physician and hospital margins, the rise in professional liability insurance may be the deciding factor that contributes to whether physician offices and emergency rooms keep their doors open.

The "Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care" (HEALTH) Act of 2002, will ensure that patients who have been injured through negligence are fairly compensated, while safeguarding patient access to care. ACP-ASIM strongly endorses this legislation as a means to stabilize the professional liability insurance market and bring balance to the nations' health care tort system.

The ACP-ASIM supports the bills protection of patients' ability to recover medical expenses and loss of future earnings (economic) damages, while limiting the attorneys' shares of these awards. The HEALTH ACT also includes common sense reforms such as a $250,000 limit on unquantifiable damages ("pain and suffering"); limitations on punitive damages without evidence to show malicious or deliberate acts; informing juries of previous payments to plaintiffs; and allowing defendants pay future damages over time.

Complete text of the ACP-ASIM testimony may be viewed online.

The American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine is the nation's largest medical specialty organization and the second largest physician group. Membership exceeds 115,000 internal medicine physicians and medical students.

Jack Pope, (202) 261-4556, jpope@acponline.org
Jennifer Whalen, (202) 261-4575, jennw@acponline.org

Page updated: 11-03-03

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