Here in southcentral Pennsylvania, we’re blessed with great health care providers and facilities. In addition to our long-established medical centers, a brand-new hospital is under construction in West York and eastern Cumberland County has a premier facility just a few years old.
We’re also fortunate in that, for many cases, we can stay close to home to get the health care we need.
Sadly, if the state court system approves a rule change that reverts back to a situation in the early 2000s, the health of those hospitals and our communities could be at risk.
Nearly two decades ago, skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance premiums were driving doctors away. Some physicians couldn’t even find insurance and others decided they couldn’t afford to see their patients. Doctors hit hardest were those in medical specialties, such as OB-GYNs, orthopedists and neurologists. They either left their practices, moved to other states or retired completely. That led to higher health care costs overall, and access to health care suffered statewide.
This situation arose because 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. It’s no secret that Philadelphia juries routinely awarded substantially higher payouts compared to other counties.
At the time, all three branches of state government worked together to enact a series of legal reforms. 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.
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That venue rule was a success. The number of medical malpractice lawsuits dropped 66 percent in Philadelphia, clearly demonstrating that medical malpractice cases in other counties had been inappropriately misdirected to the Philadelphia.
Now, after years of success and stabilized medical malpractice insurance rates, the court is considering a reversal of its 2003 venue rule. I’m having a hard time understanding why suddenly the court is reconsidering a rule that has been so effective. I have not had anyone tell me they are being denied justice under the current venue rule. Given the effectiveness of the 2003 venue rule and the absence of claims of injustice, I can only assume that court’s contemplation of a reversal of its venue rule is purely political.
Access to health care transcends politics. If this proposal is adopted, I fear that health care will slide back into a crisis mode. The relationships we have with our doctors will be compromised. Medical advances will stall. And we’ll witness devastating blows to our hospitals and long-term care facilities.
As a mother, I couldn’t imagine having to drive an hour or more to get care for my children. Sadly, that could be our new reality if the courts change their rules.
Health care is everyone’s issue. I implore you to be engaged in this conversation. Visit www.PAGOPPolicy.com before Feb. 22 and submit your thoughts about how a reversal of this rule could hurt your health care. It is imperative that the courts truly understand the ramifications this proposed rule change could have on Pennsylvania families’ access to care. The more the court hears from people like you — patients who have a vested interest in the outcome — we hope the more they will understand.
You can play a role in saving our health care.