The House Republican Policy Committee conducted a hearing last week to solicit input from key stakeholders in Pennsylvania’s healthcare community following a recent state Supreme Court decision that could profoundly impact the industry, providers and patients.
Last month, the PA Supreme County reversed a rule it had issued two decades ago providing that medical malpractice cases be heard in the county where the alleged injury occurred. Prior to that 2003 rule change, plaintiffs’ attorneys were increasingly filing cases in jurisdictions known for jackpot jury awards, despite the county – usually Philadelphia – having nothing to do with the case itself. This tactic, known as “venue-shopping,” was a significant factor that led to sky-rocketing medical malpractice insurance costs in the 1990s and early 2000s, prompting doctors to leave Pennsylvania or retire early. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have been advocating for several years for the Court to reverse the rule.
On Monday, Sept. 12th, House Republican Policy Committee members convened to discuss the Court’s action and hear from representatives of the healthcare community.
State Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin), Chair of the Judiciary Committee, explained the origin of the rule to limit venue-shopping and its success in providing a consistent standard and some predictability. “It’s unfortunate that those on the other side of this issue will cry about health care affordability and access until it doesn’t suit their narrative and it doesn’t suit the folks who are their benefactors,” Kauffman said. Kauffman has introduced a constitutional amendment to transfer the power to set venue rules from the Supreme Court to the legislature.
Dr. Michael Ripchinski, Chief Physician Executive at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and Board Member of the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine, described the impact on PA doctors, “The impact of requiring an entity such as Lancaster General Health – or any suburban or rural hospital — to litigate medical liability claims in Philadelphia cannot be overstated. It will dramatically impact the cost of insurance at rural hospitals due to Philadelphia County’s associated higher risk profile, and also will be disruptive to patient care if physicians and other providers are unavailable while participating in proceedings in a distant venue.”
Also testifying were Zach Shamberg, president, CEO of Pennsylvania Healthcare Association, which represents long-term care facilities; Dr. Wilson Jackson of Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology; and Jonathan Greer, president of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania.
If no action is taken the new rules will be effective January 1, 2023 and could be applied retroactively to causes of action that occurred before 2023.