Tort reform is alive and well in Ohio. Amid the rancor surrounding the federal government shutdown, a reprehensible bill has been proposed in the Ohio House of Representatives. If passed, House Bill 276 would grant even more immunities to health care providers.
Among other provisions, the bill states that if a physician admits he or she made a medical mistake, which caused death or serious harm to a patient, then that statement would be ruled inadmissible — preventing it from being used against the doctor in a court of law. If you or I were involved in an auto accident and we admitted the crash was our fault, we would be held liable for our actions. This begs the question: Why should doctors be treated differently?
Proponents of tort reform have argued that litigation is to blame for the rise in medical costs. They maintain that by limiting jury awards and settlements, thereby lowering medical malpractice payments for doctors, patients will see a decrease in medical bills. During the health care reform debate, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called medical malpractice the “biggest cost driver” in medicine. Republicans in Congress have made it a perennial priority to pass legislation that would restrict patients’ ability to seek redress in court.
However, a recent study by Public Citizen, an independent consumer advocacy group, shows that despite reduced litigation and smaller payouts to victims, the nation’s health care bill has continued to rise.
“Since 2003, medical malpractice payments have fallen 28.8 percent,” the report states. “If medical malpractice litigation were truly the ‘biggest cost driver’ in medicine, then declining payments should have pulled overall health care costs down. But the nation’s health care bill has risen 58.3 percent since 2003.”
Introduced by Rep. Peter Stautberg (R-Anderson Twp.), H.B. 276 would amend section 2317.43 and enact sections 2305.27 and 2323.40 of the Revised Code to provide special immunities to health care providers. The Ohio Association for Justice plans to fight the proposed legislation. They shared a summary of the bill in a recent email.
- The bill says that admissions to the patient or patient’s family that the doctor committed an error or is at fault would be inadmissible in court. Ohio’s current apology statute makes expressions of sentiment inadmissible, but statements of fact that an error occurred during a procedure are admissible.
- The bill bans medical negligence claims when the chance of a patient’s survival is less than 50%. In loss of chance cases today, the injured patient’s recovery is reduced proportionally based on loss of chance, but this would bar all recovery.
- The bill grants immunity to hospitals and other health care facilities when the treating physician is an independent contractor. The hospital would have a duty to notify the patient that the facility is not liable for the actions of doctors who are independent contractors.
Prior tort reform legislation in Ohio placed caps on the amount an injured party could receive, thereby reducing the volume of litigation. However, as we previously shared, medical malpractice litigation can actually improve patient health by drawing attention to problem areas.
Joining Rep. Stuatberg as co-sponsors of the bill are Representatives John Becker (R-Union Township), Terry Blair (R-Washington Twp.), Louis W. Blessing, III (R-Colerain Twp.), Bob D. Hackett (R-London), Jay Hottinger (R-Newark), Terry Johnson (R-McDermott), Gary Scherer (R-Circleville), Barbara R. Sears (R-Monclova Twp.), and Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell).
House Bill 276, 130th Ohio Gen. Assembly, proposed September 30, 2013.
“No Correlation: Continued Decrease in Medical Malpractice Payments Debunks Theory That Litigation Is to Blame for Soaring Medical Costs” Public Citizen, August 2013.