California’s Medical Malpractice Law Should be a Model for Other States, CMA’s Lewin Says
With several states, including Nevada, Pennsylvania and Florida, struggling with problems linked to "extraordinary" increases in malpractice insurance, California Medical Association Executive Vice President Dr. Jack Lewin said yesterday on NPR's "All Things Considered" that the nationwide problem "will only get worse" unless states adopt laws similar to one California has had in place for 25 years. Lewin said that in 1975, California physicians were experiencing what doctors in many states are now facing -- huge medical malpractice insurance premiums that are forcing them to stop providing some services, including emergency care. Lewin said, "Physicians were so outraged by malpractice rates that had gone up 10 times what they were in the years before that they went on a rampage. One of them occupied the office of [former Gov. Jerry Brown (D)] and said they were going to stop doing elective procedures until something happened." A special session of the Legislature was called, resulting in a "remarkable law," Lewin said. Under the law, juries could no longer award patients any more than $250,000 for pain and suffering and limits were set on the percentage lawyers could take from malpractice settlements. Lewin said it is "this law, and this law alone" that has allowed California to do "far better" than other states in controlling rising malpractice costs. "The number of suits has continued to rise over time, and the actual amounts of the damages paid has increased faster than inflation in California. So patients are treated fairly when something goes wrong, but the number of frivolous or non-meritorious lawsuits is so much lower in California," Lewin said. Legislation is expected to be introduced shortly in Congress that will propose "dramatic legal reforms" based on California's model (Neighmond, "All Things Considered," NPR, 4/3). The full NPR segment is available online in RealPlayer Audio. Note: You must have RealPlayer to listen to the report.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.