PA GOP Policy Committee - Venue Shopping

Earlier this year, Pennsylvanians’ access to quality health care could have been at risk. In late December, the state court system announced a proposal to reverse all the progress that has been made to ensure critical access to health care. That would have been done by repealed a 2003 rule that prevented plaintiffs’ lawyers in medical malpractice cases from shopping around for a court venue. This rule change was coupled with a series of legislative reforms relating to medical malpractice liability insurance that were enacted in 2002.

Cases from all over Pennsylvania were being steered to Philadelphia for trial, even if none of the alleged malpractice actually took place there. Philadelphia juries routinely awarded substantially higher payouts compared to other counties from the 1970s through the early 2000s. As a result, premiums for medical malpractice insurance skyrocketed all around the state -- regardless of whether the doctors practiced in Philadelphia or elsewhere.

That led to higher health care costs overall and broken relationships between patient and physician. Access to health care suffered throughout the state, especially in rural and more remote areas.

This rule states that medical malpractice cases must be brought in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred. Since its enactment, the number of medical malpractice cases dropped 66 percent in Philadelphia, demonstrating how many cases about malpractice in other counties had been inappropriately misdirected to Philadelphia.

That rule – which has protected health care and allowed patients to rely on their physician – is now threatened. On Dec. 22, 2018, the Civil Procedural Rules Committee announced a proposal to repeal this rule, thereby allowing medical malpractice actions to be brought in “any venue authorized by law.”

For more background on the issue, click here.

But we fought back.

On Jan. 30, the House Majority Policy Committee, House leaders and numerous House Republican members held a press conference to raise awareness of this issue and that it could lead to a health care crisis, similar to one in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

You can watch that press conference here.

At that press conference, Policy Committee Chairman Donna Oberlander announced a public hearing to hear directly from physicians, health care facilities and other stakeholders about the rule reversal’s potential impact.

You can watch that hearing here.

You can read the press release from the hearing here.

Just a couple hours after the hearing concluded, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor announced the court will hold off on making a decision on the rule change until after a study is completed by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee this year. That study is due to be finished by January 2020.

You can read the letter here.

In the meantime, residents and physicians from all over the state visited our website to link up to a comment form that was submitted to the Rules Committee by Feb. 22. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who took the time to fill out the comment form and let the court know how this rule reversal could impact you. We are hopeful the mountain of submissions will convince the court that the venue rule is working and there is no reason to repeal it.

Our work isn’t finished, and we will continue to monitor the situation and take any necessary action.