The Doctor’s Advocate | Second Quarter 2016
Government Relations Report
Every Aspect of the Litigation Process Is Subject to Legislative Action
Across the nation, reforms intended to protect access to healthcare and provide fair compensation to patients are under attack.
Legislation introduced in Oregon earlier this year is a typical example. The legislation was aimed at eliminating or more than tripling the limits on noneconomic damages in medical liability awards in wrongful death actions. If enacted, this legislation would have resulted in increased medical liability insurance rates and reduced access to care for Oregonians, especially those living in medically underserved areas.
Our comprehensive campaign to defeat the bill included engaging a variety of coalition partners; preparing and giving expert testimony at legislative hearings; and providing reports, charts, and data to educate allies and legislators about the bill’s negative effects. Our advocacy efforts were ultimately successful, and the legislation was defeated.
But this victory does not mean that we can now relax our guard in Oregon—or anywhere else. The forces behind that bill and others like it will regroup, strategize, and try again to advance a similar bill in another legislative session with a different mix of political players. The shifting tides of politics change constantly, so we can never be complacent.
Every year, state legislatures and the U.S. Congress introduce approximately 150,000 legislative bills. The Doctors Company’s government relations team reviews each bill to determine if it could have any significant impact on our members. After initial review, we continue to monitor roughly 3,500 bills each year. In many states, ballot measures can also be introduced. All legislation—bills introduced by legislative bodies and ballot measures—can affect every single facet of medical malpractice litigation. Here are just a few examples of how legislation can have a major impact: the number of lawsuits filed, the outcome of those suits, the amount of money awarded, and the possibility of appeal.
In the first quarter of 2016 alone, we identified hundreds of bills that could affect the medical liability climate for our members. A partial list of the introduced bills includes legislation that would increase noneconomic damage caps, change expert witness standards, change judgment interest rates, create new standards of care, determine who may or may not bring a claim, change statutes of limitations on claims, and determine what evidence can be submitted at trial.
To protect our members, staff and lobbyists engage with the legislative, rule-making, and judicial processes to advocate at state and national levels. As part of the company’s advocacy program, the government relations team educates legislators and allied organizations about the potential effects of legislation. The organizations include longstanding coalition partners, such as the Texas Alliance for Patient Access (TAPA), Coloradans Protecting Patient Access (CPPA), the Health Coalition on Liability and Access (HCLA), and Californians Allied for Patient Protection (CAPP).
The government relations team works with tort reform groups across the nation and with state medical and specialty societies, trade associations, healthcare associations, patient groups, other medical liability insurance carriers, labor unions, local governments, other state-specific groups, and many others. But we also seek new partners, forming ad hoc coalitions to advance or defeat legislation, as appropriate. The Doctors Company also engages state and federal lobbyists and consultants to assist with advocacy efforts.
We draw on the company’s national experience to gather and analyze data and translate the findings into information and studies that provide decision makers with the quality information they need to make informed decisions. These valuable resources help us and our legislative allies and coalition partners win votes for or against specific bills. Additionally, the company engages in public relations, grassroots, and key contact campaigns.
When there is an opportunity to enact legislation that would benefit our members, we work tirelessly to advance it. Each year, we look for opportunities to introduce or support favorable legislation. However, due to the political climate in most states, in recent years, those efforts have been primarily defensive in nature. During the widespread medical liability crises in the early 2000s, many states adopted tort reforms modeled on California’s landmark Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). It takes extreme vigilance to hold onto these hard-won reforms.
Beyond legislation, the government relations and legal teams actively track dozens of court cases that have an impact on medical liability, and we participate in amicus briefs on behalf of members, when appropriate. The teams also monitor state and federal rule-making processes and advocate for needed changes.
The Doctors Company is the industry leader in the political field on medical liability reform. Moreover, our reputation for integrity has made us widely sought after as a resource on the issue. Trial lawyers continually find new and inventive ways to undermine medical liability reforms. As long as they do, our government relations team will continue to protect you and to protect your patients’ access to healthcare.