Proposal Before American Medical Association To Refuse Care to Lawyers Withdrawn
Physicians at the American Medical Association's annual meeting on Sunday denounced a colleague's proposal endorsing the refusal of non-emergency care to attorneys involved in medical malpractice lawsuits and to their families, the AP/New York Times reports (AP/New York Times, 6/14). Dr. Chris Hawk, a surgeon in Charleston, S.C., submitted his proposal at the national meeting after the South Carolina Medical Association refused to endorse the resolution at its convention in March. Hawk withdrew the national proposal on Sunday, but he said the measure was "analogous to hitting the lawyers with a 2-by-4," adding, "Now we have their attention. Now maybe we can make some progress" on medical malpractice reform. He said that although the idea of refusing care "may be repulsive," it is not unethical (Parker, USA Today, 6/14). Hawk said physicians are leaving his state or retiring early because of rising insurance premiums, which limits patients' access to care (AP/New York Times, 6/14). He said that he drafted the resolution to highlight the "magnitude" of the medical malpractice problem (USA Today, 6/14). However, several physicians "stood up to denounce the resolution in passionate speeches" even after its withdrawal. Dr. Michael Williams, a neurologist, said the resolution should not have been introduced because it seeks to discriminate against a group of patients, adding that the proposal leaves the AMA with "a really big mess to clean up." Some delegates said that the resolution could hurt the association's lobbying efforts to cut medical malpractice costs by "giving trial lawyers ammunition," the AP/Times reports (AP/New York Times, 6/14).
Hawk's proposal illustrates how physicians seeking to address the cost of medical malpractice insurance increasingly are "striking back against lawyers with hardball tactics" that are raising ethical questions, according to USA Today, which profiled several actions being taken. For example, a physician in Mississippi wrote to state legislator and attorney Percy Watson (D) to tell him that he would refuse to treat him "because of his opposition to limiting malpractice awards against doctors," USA Today reports. In New Hampshire, a neurosurgeon told Tim Coughlin, president of the New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association, that he would not provide care for Coughlin if he ever required it because of his objection to caps on malpractice suits. Tampa General Hospital in Florida announced in February that its employees would be prohibited from testifying on behalf of plaintiffs in malpractice cases. In Jersey City, N.J., the medical staff at Christ Hospital voted to remove its chief of staff because he supported malpractice legislation that many of his colleagues opposed. Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview, Texas, fired a nurse because her husband is an attorney who works in a firm that handles medical malpractice cases -- even though he does not work directly on medical malpractice cases; the hospital has an "unwritten practice" not to employ spouses of lawyers who represent plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases because of "the perceived likelihood of a conflict of interest" (USA Today, 6/14).
AMA at its annual meeting also will consider about 10 resolutions and reports related to reducing obesity, including:
- Two resolutions proposing restrictions on candy and soft drink sales in schools;
- A recommendation that elementary schools provide at least 30 minutes of recess a day;
- A resolution requesting the government to require restaurants to list nutrition information;
- A request for grants and tax breaks to promote the creation of walking paths, bike trails, swimming pools and fitness centers;
- A recommendation that hospital cafeterias serve healthier food; and
- A report that recommends the government's food pyramid and dietary guidelines consider including foods that are frequently consumed by minorities (Ritter, Chicago Sun-Times, 6/14).
"It's high time that the contingency fee chiselers learn what it's like to go without health care," Ron Bailey, a writer for Reason, said in a commentary on MPR's "Marketplace" on Friday in support of Hawk's proposal. According to Bailey, "meritless" lawsuits increase medical malpractice insurance rates and discourage physicians from entering high-risk specialties, leaving whole communities without access to health care (Bailey, "Marketplace," MPR, 6/11). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.