The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been asked to consider revising a critical measure that was put in place more than 15 years ago to ease the medical malpractice crisis. As part of a package of reforms implemented in 2003, a new rule was put in place to prohibit the practice of venue shopping, which allowed plaintiffs to file medical malpractice suits in municipalities like Philadelphia that were more likely to award higher awards for damages.

Abolishing this rule threatens to create a new medical malpractice crisis and drive more doctors out of Pennsylvania. I supported a resolution, which passed the Senate by a 32-17 bipartisan vote, that urges the court to delay this decision until the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee can complete a study on the issue.

The resolution would also require a public hearing to allow all interested parties to weigh in on how this change could impact health care providers, patients and insurers in Pennsylvania. This will give the legal community, the medical community, the business community, and the public, ample opportunity to weigh in with statistics, trends, arguments and philosophies. Those advocating for the rule change can also put forward their arguments, but the jury will be the public at large rather than a small segment of the legal community.

I am happy to report that the court recently agreed to suspend work on rescinding the rule on venue shopping until this report is completed. It is my hope that this comprehensive study will help inform all of us on whether changes to the venue rule are warranted.

By reining in the costs of excessive litigation and out-of-line awards, Pennsylvania was able to stabilize insurance rates and stem the loss of medical practitioners and facilities. The Pennsylvania Medical Society reports that in the six years prior to the 2003 reforms, medical liability insurance rates increased between 80 and 147 percent. It is feared that venue shopping will have a detrimental effect on liability insurance rates and will deter physicians from practicing in Pennsylvania.

This is particularly concerning since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that Pennsylvania will face a deficit of approximately 1,000 primary care physicians by 2025.

The change to curtail venue shopping brought constructive balance to the system and worked even better than intended, an infrequent occurrence in the world of implementing and realizing reform. There has been no hint that dramatic change was necessary or imminent in 2019. It is my belief that without further consideration of this proposed rule change in full openness, we lack the compelling case and the fundamental fairness that are the foundations of a good and wise legal system.

State Senator David G. Argall is a Republican representing Schuylkill and Berks counties.

 

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