The failure of two major bills during this legislative session illustrates one of the most important reasons why your ISMA membership is valuable. SB 55 and HB 1043 would have greatly impacted your medical malpractice premiums and threatened access and quality of care for thousands of Hoosiers.
Specifically, SB 55 would have permitted a patient to bring certain actions against a health care provider without submitting the complaint to a medical review panel, allowing more cases to go directly to court.
HB 1043 would have increased the medical malpractice damages cap by more than 30 percent and increased medical malpractice insurance costs by 15 percent, according to the Indiana Department of Insurance. The failure of this measure was a victory for all Indiana physicians.
Four physicians explain why they were concerned about these two bills and how passage would have impacted them.
Donn Chatham, MD - New Albany
With practices in both Louisville and New Albany, Dr. Chatham, a plastic surgeon, is well acquainted with the medical liability environment in both states. But because of Indiana’s more favorable medical malpractice laws, he practices mostly in New Albany.
“It makes more sense to have a medical malpractice act, including physician panels and caps, which creates a climate that encourages more physicians to practice in Indiana,” said Dr. Chatham.
He explained that Indiana’s medical liability laws reduce meaningless claims.
“Physicians today operate in an environment of declining revenue and increased overhead costs,” he said. “More stringent government regulations and pressures from insurance carriers intensify this. For Indiana to further stress its physicians by adding more costs and threats of settlement would seem unwise.”
Michael Whitworth, MD - Columbus
Practicing in Indiana and Florida, Dr. Whitworth admitted that he would have closed his Columbus surgical office if the two bills had passed.
“These bills would fundamentally change the nature of how malpractice insurance works,” he said. “Physicians frequently predicate their practices on a certain amount of assumed risk that is built into their practice and patient population. If there are rapidly escalating caps or no caps, or increased potential for frivolous lawsuits, then physicians, especially specialists, may not offer new technologies. Patients will not have the latest techniques made available because the malpractice risk becomes unknown due to the threat of the medical malpractice act being dismantled.”
Dr. Whitworth expects the bills to come back again in some form. “Because of this, I’m afraid the frivolous lawsuit issues and threat to caps on malpractice are not over yet.”
S. Eric Rubenstein, MD - Indianapolis
A medical oncologist, Dr. Rubenstein completed his residency in New York and started his first practice in Florida before coming back to Indiana. He noted that the state’s favorable malpractice climate attracts quality physicians and promotes healthy competition – two great reasons to protect our law.
“We have top-tier physicians throughout Indiana from all over the world, which is directly related to our favorable malpractice environment,” noted Dr. Rubenstein. “This results in more competition, creating better patient choices and forces physicians to elevate their game and standards.”
However, Dr. Rubenstein cautioned that now is not the time to become complacent. He urged physicians to become informed and involved in the legislative process.
“I love working in a state where a panel of doctors is going to look at each individual case to first determine a claim’s legitimacy,” he said. “The medical review panel looks out for our best interest so that we are free to practice proactive vs. defensive medicine.”
Roberto Darroca, MD - Muncie
Concerned with the impact the two bills would have on patient care, Dr. Darroca went to work visiting legislators at the Statehouse.
He said we must maintain the spirit of the law by defeating these bills. “What we want to do is provide great health care for the people of Indiana and provide an environment in which physicians want to practice.”
Dr. Darroca, an ob/gyn, also warned that the battle to increase the malpractice cap will continue.
“It’s important that we all stay vigilant and have as many physicians as possible join the ISMA,” he noted. “It sends a big message to legislators when we represent a large number of physicians. Those who are reading this publication should tell their colleagues that they are reaping the benefits of the ISMA. If you are going to benefit from it, you should support it.”