Physicians and other healthcare providers who have made good-faith efforts to provide the best possible care under crisis conditions should be able to continue focusing on their patients and not have to live under the shadow of potential unwarranted litigation. While many states have extended targeted medical liability protections to healthcare providers, federal protection is essential.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers have cared for their communities while facing personal risk and adapting to constantly changing directives as our understanding of the virus has evolved. To follow emergency orders from local, state, and federal government offices, physicians have been forced to change the way they practice, including suspending or delaying treatment for certain patients, shifting to or increasing telehealth services, and triaging non–COVID-19 patients differently during emergencies in areas hit hard by the pandemic.
Healthcare providers have acted swiftly to implement all these required changes, often with inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for themselves or patients, and sometimes with inadequate access to ventilators or other lifesaving medical equipment.
It has been, in short, an emergency.
Federal Medical Liability Protections for Providers Is Essential
To ensure limited and targeted protections from liability, and protecting those who have provided care in good faith, The Doctors Company strongly supports provisions like the ones laid out in the Coronavirus Provider Protection Act, H.R. 7059. Introduced in the House by Lou Correa (D-CA) and Phil Roe, MD, (R-TN), the legislation provides liability protections for healthcare providers’ acts or omissions in the course of providing healthcare services during the COVID-19 public health emergency except in situations of gross negligence or willful misconduct.
We encourage all healthcare providers to make their voices heard and contact their state’s congressional delegation to support medical liability protection provisions such as those found in H.R. 7059. U.S. senators’ and representatives’ names and contact information can be found at senate.gov and house.gov.
H.R. 7059 builds upon protections in the CARES Act, which provides limited Good Samaritan liability protections for healthcare professionals who have been volunteering. The CARES Act addresses situations like those of physicians who have temporarily come out of retirement to serve their communities during the pandemic. All healthcare professionals deserve those same protections.
The Doctors Company joins the American Medical Association (AMA) in asking Congress to respond to these unprecedented conditions by granting certain liability protections for healthcare providers who treat COVID-19 patients. We call on Congress to recognize that lawsuits may reflect situations beyond physicians’ control, such as:
- Inadequate testing.
- Shortages of medical equipment for patients, such as ventilators.
- Shortages of PPE for patients and themselves.
- An emergency need to provide care outside their usual area of practice.
- The required suspension of most in-person visits.
State Medical Liability Protections Are a Model
More than 25 states have recognized that to help providers continue to focus on their demanding roles, it was critical to provide targeted civil medical liability protections to healthcare professionals for injuries or death alleged to be directly sustained as a result of care provided during the COVID-19 outbreak. In the hard-hit state of New York, our company joined other allies to work closely with the state’s administration to secure the first of COVID-specific immunities. In other states, like Oregon and Florida, more than 2,000 physicians joined our grassroots campaigns asking for similar protections.
Executive actions and other decisive acts of assistance provided by the states are commendable. That said, a national crisis calls for a federal solution.
In company with the AMA and the Health Coalition on Liability and Access (HCLA)—which includes the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and many other leading medical organizations supporting those directly affected by this crisis—The Doctors Company wholeheartedly supports federal legislation providing targeted medical liability protections for healthcare providers.
The heroes who have risked their own safety to care for all of us should not have to live in fear of malpractice litigation after providing the care that has been, and still is, so desperately needed.
Learn how you can urge Congress to protect healthcare professionals during COVID-19.
Robert White is the Executive Vice President, Medical Professional Liability, at The Doctors Company. He has 30 years of litigation and claims management experience.