Jan. 30, 2019

The prescription is working
HARRISBURG – Faced with a potential crisis threatening Pennsylvanians’ health care, House Republican leaders – Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and Policy Chairman Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest) – today stood with health care providers and called for a public hearing to examine the negative impact that could result from the state court system looking to repeal one of its rules on medical malpractice lawsuits.

“Pennsylvanians’ access to quality health care is in jeopardy,” said Oberlander. “The court is looking to reverse all the progress that has been made over the past 16 years to ensure critical access to health care – and that has the potential to cripple Pennsylvania’s health care industry and break the valued bond between patients and their doctors. This is especially detrimental in rural and underserved areas that already have challenges in recruiting and retaining physicians and specialists. We must let the court know about the dire impact this could have.”

In the early 2000s, medical malpractice civil lawsuits from all over Pennsylvania were being steered to Philadelphia for trial, even if none of the alleged malpractice actually took place there. This is due to the fact that Philadelphia juries routinely awarded substantially higher payouts compared to other counties. Doctors, including family practice, OB-GYNs, orthopedists, neurosurgeons and other specialists, retired early, closed entirely or moved to other states. That led to higher health care costs overall and patients losing their physicians and specialists. Access to health care suffered statewide.

The legislative and judicial branches acted together to address this crisis. In 2002, the Legislature enacted a series of legal reforms relating to medical malpractice liability insurance. One of those reforms prevented plaintiffs’ lawyers in medical malpractice cases from shopping around for a court venue. Then in 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a rule that mirrors one of those reforms, so that medical malpractice cases must be brought in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred.

“Fifteen years ago, as a staff X-ray technologist in a hospital, I saw firsthand the impacts of the medical malpractice crisis,” said Cutler. “Through legislation and court action, Gov. Ed Rendell and the Legislature fixed the issue. There is no need to return to the days of doctors retiring early, or being forced to leave our state.”

Since its enactment, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits dropped 66 percent in Philadelphia, demonstrating how many cases about malpractice in other counties had been inappropriately misdirected there.

If this rule is reversed, experts believe medical malpractice premiums will skyrocket again. That could lead to patients having to say goodbye to their physicians or patients having to drive farther for care. Additionally, recruiting physicians and specialists would be difficult, and medical innovations may be halted. Overall, patient care would suffer and everyone would face higher health care costs.

“House Republicans acted to protect Pennsylvanians’ access to quality health care, and in collaboration with the courts, a legislatively established Interbranch Commission in 2003 crafted a rule later adopted by the Supreme Court to mitigate Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice crisis of the early 2000s,” said Turzai, who was an architect of the legislation at the time. “Those reforms have been a success and saved our health care system. Now the court’s rules committee is looking to repeal that rule out of the blue, yet has cited zero evidence, empirical or anecdotal, suggesting the venue rule creates any problems. We need to save our health care. You can be certain -- access to quality health care is a priority for our caucus.”

The General Assembly can submit comments on the pending change until Feb. 22.

Oberlander announced that the hearing, to be held by the House Majority Policy Committee, will take place on Feb. 12 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem so that the committee can hear more about the negative impact the repeal of this rule would have on the health care community and on patients.

In the meantime, residents can make a difference. Residents can visit PAGOPPolicy.com before Feb. 22 to leave a comment about how a reversal of this rule could hurt their health care.

Representative Donna Oberlander
63rd District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton
RepOberlander.com / Facebook.com/RepOberlander
PAGOPPolicy.com / Facebook.com/PAGOPPolicy / Twitter.com/PAGOPPolicy