Starting the new year with our priorities set realistically

From the AMA. By William G. Plested III, MD
A message to all physicians from AMA President William G. Plested III, MD.

The new year is upon us and brings excitement and hope for new beginnings in all of our endeavors. It is time to review our gains and losses in 2006, and to set our goals for 2007. So let’s begin with an honest and critical look at the year that has just been completed.

Last year, our No. 1 legislative priority was again medical liability reform. For the 10th time in the past 10 years, our MICRA-type bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, only to be stalled in the Senate. As in past years, the bill was prevented from a floor vote by the filibuster or cloture rule.

Even though it appears that we would prevail in a floor vote, such a vote has been prevented by a handful of senators. The cloture rule necessitates a supermajority vote of 60 to bring a bill to the floor for a final vote that can enact the bill with a simple majority vote of 51.

Another major setback was a ruling by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Lake Charles, La. A five-judge panel struck down the Louisiana cap on damages in a 3-2 decision. Fortunately, the written decision included some gross inaccuracies, such as a statement that there is absolutely no proof that caps are related to the lowering of medical liability premiums.

Statements such as this give us hope that this unfortunate ruling can be overturned on appeal. However, the crystal-clear lesson for us is that even our most dearly won gains are at risk as long as there are trial lawyers and judges, as long as the tort system is the method by which medical liability claims are adjudicated.

On a much more positive note, we saw continued reductions in the medical liability insurance premiums charged to physicians in Texas. This follows their tort reform efforts and the passage of Proposition 12, which amended the Texas constitution to allow for caps. It is reported that the improvement in the medical liability climate in Texas has been so remarkable that their state medical board has been swamped with applications from physicians who want to practice in the Lone Star State. This Texas experience documents the fallacy of the ruling in Louisiana.
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