Congress should pass proposed legislation reforming the nation's medical liability system as long as it "in no way preempts the state reforms that have been won in Texas and other states," TMA President Susan Rudd Bailey, MD, said in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas).
Dr. Bailey sent the letter to show TMA's support for the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011, filed by Representatives Smith, Phil Gingrey, MD (R-Ga.), and David Scott (D-Ga.). In addition to a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages, the bill requires medical liability suits to be filed within three years of the injury in most cases.
"TMA has long supported the enactment of fair, federal medical liability reforms," Dr. Bailey said. She added that TMA previously supported similar legislation by Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Texas), "and will do so again because we know of the very positive effects the 2003 Texas reforms have had on access to care and the growing number of physicians who have relocated to Texas because of our fair and stable liability climate."
TMA's letter is in addition to a letter of endorsement that the American Medical Association and 100 other physicians and medical organizations sent to the bill's sponsors.
"The proven reforms contained in the HEALTH Act would help reduce costs, while ensuring that patients who have been injured due to negligence receive just compensation," that letter said. "This bill provides the right balance of reforms by promoting speedier resolutions to disputes, maintaining access to courts, maximizing patient recovery of damage awards with unlimited compensation for economic damages, while limiting noneconomic damages to a quarter million dollars. In addition, the HEALTH Act protects effective state medical liability reform laws."
Previous attempts to pass national medical liability reform failed, primarily because of opposition in the Senate. In his State of the Union speech Jan. 25, President Obama said he is "willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year – medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits."
With the state facing a $30 billion budget deficit, the 2011 Texas Legislature could be disastrous for medicine in Texas. Lawmakers will look for ways to save money, and health care could face potentially devastating funding cuts. Trial lawyers will try to erode the historic tort reforms physicians fought so hard for in 2003, hospitals will try once again to crack the state's ban on the corporate practice of medicine, and advance practice nurses and other nonphysician practitioners will battle for the right to practice independently.
This is where you come in. You can work to save health care funding by lobbying lawmakers and explaining to them how vital it is to preserve and enhance health care funding in Texas. Your patients depend on you.
How can you help? The easiest way is to come to Austin and make your voice heard during First Tuesdays at the Capitol Feb. 1, March 1, April 5, and May 3. Lobbying tips, legislative briefings and debriefings, and personal visits to legislators' offices are all part of First Tuesdays at the Capitol.
First Tuesdays have been incredibly successful since they began in 2003. Lawmakers say seeing all those white lab coats in their offices and in the Capitol galleries and hallways make a difference. They listen when their hometown doctors show up in their offices.
"Caring for Patients in a Time of Change" is TMA's theme for this session. TMA President Susan Rudd Bailey, MD, says "this message reminds each of us – as well as our patients and state officials and candidates for office and the general public – that caring for patients is what we do. It's what we do regardless of the environment. It's what cements that bond with our patients and their families. And it's what makes our profession so special."
It is absolutely essential for medicine to engage the representatives and senators early and often. TMA and the TMAAlliance are calling on you. Be a medical lobbyist for a day. You will make a difference.