– The House Majority Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), met today to discuss the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s change to medical malpractice venue rules and how this will hurt patients and gravely impact their access to health care.
“Twenty years ago, medical malpractice insurance premiums in the state were skyrocketing, doctors were discontinuing or reducing the number of high-risk procedures and surgeries performed, and our state was unable to recruit and retain physicians,” Causer said. “Thankfully, we were able to correct this downward spiral through legislation, but now, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wants to turn back time and put us right back on a dead-end road that does nothing but threaten health care accessibility and affordability.”
In August of this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that beginning Jan. 1, 2023, trial lawyers can resume filing medical malpractice cases in any county in the state, thereby eliminating a 20-year moratorium on the practice of venue shopping, the practice of filing lawsuits in jurisdictions – with Philadelphia topping that list – where juries award larger payouts.
Venue shopping resulted in astronomical verdicts, with doctors and health care systems seeing substantial increases in their medical malpractice premiums, severely threatening access to care, especially in the rural parts of the state. In some cases, doctors were forced to reduce high-risk procedures or close their practices altogether, as the insurance premiums became unaffordable.
To address the issue, Act 127 of 2002
was passed and eliminated the practice of venue shopping. However, with the state Supreme Court’s recent announcement to allow venue shopping once again, the consequences for physicians, health care systems and patients could be dire.
The hearing opened with testimony from Dr. Michael R. Ripchinski, chief physician executive at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and a board member of the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine. “Hospitals in Lancaster County could expect to see a premium rate increase ranging from 36% to 73%. That analysis also projected a premium increase ranging from 41% to 82% for physicians in the county. This rule change threatens the continued availability and affordability of professional liability insurance, the training and retention of new physicians, and full access to quality health care for the residents of Pennsylvania.”
Next to offer testimony was Zachary Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. “The decision by our state’s Supreme Court, and this change to allow venue shopping for medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania, will destroy our industry in a post-pandemic environment. It will drive up costs, it will result in fewer resources to provide high-quality care and access to care will undoubtedly be put at risk. It shouldn’t be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Also offering comments was Dr. Wilson Jackson, III with Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology, who spoke about the very real possibility of physicians deciding not to perform certain high-risk procedures or leaving the state altogether, as insurance premiums reflect the risk of the procedures performed. “I see this with my insurance rates, as my premiums are directly related to the high-risk procedures I perform as a gastroenterologist.”
Last to offer comments was Jonathan Greer, president of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania. Greer’s comments addressed the possibility of increased medical malpractice case filings with the renewed interest in venue shopping. “Lawyers say they will be able to bring cases they previously stayed away from, and expect greater awards, as they have more favorable venues in which to bring their claims.”
“If the practice of venue shopping is reinstated, our state will see high-risk specialties like orthopedists, neurosurgeons and trauma surgeons discontinue high-risk procedures, OB/Gyns may stop delivering babies and patients may have more difficulty accessing care,” Causer said. “I appreciate the testimony that we heard today, but there is much to be done if we are to preserve the access to and affordability of care in our state.”
To watch video of the hearing or review testimony, visit PAGOPPolicy.com
Representative Martin T. Causer
House Majority Policy Committee Chairman
67th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia A. Hippler
RepCauser.com / Facebook.com/RepCauser