About 900 physicians in Seattle and 1,450 physicians in Spokane, Wash., rallied yesterday to urge Washington state legislators to pass malpractice reform.
Hundreds of others gathered in Walla Walla and Pullman to ask lawmakers, meeting in a special legislative session, to vote for a cap on noneconomic damages.
"This is all about a tort system run amuck and access to needed care," said Maureen Callaghan, M.D., president of the Washington State Medical Association, in a written statement. "Jackpot jury awards and settlements do not make the system safer. Instead they are driving many doctors out of business and restricting patients' access to needed medical care."
Although WSMA pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into its lobby for malpractice reform, and two bills did pass the Republican-controlled Senate in close votes during the regular session, the proposals died in the Democratic House. Both proposals would have placed a $350,000 limit on malpractice awards for noneconomic losses.
"These reforms will not take away a patient's right to seek legal action," Callaghan said. "We support the cost of making things right. There is absolutely no limit on economic damages--future wages, all medical costs, long term care. We are simply asking for fairness and balance in the system so physicians can continue to treat patients."
The official 105-day legislative session adjourned April 27, but the two chambers began meeting again May 12 to hammer out a budget and try to plug the state's $2.65 billion budget deficit. Malpractice reform is not expected to be considered again during the special session.
Washington state has been identified by the AMA and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as a state in the midst of a liability crisis. According to the WSMA, medical malpractice premiums for OB/GYNs in Washington have increased 1,164%, while neurological surgeons have faced an increase of 1,136% and family physicians have seen an increase of 878%.
The medical association has reported that numerous physicians in Washington have stopped delivering babies and that neurosurgery coverage in some emergency rooms is limited or nonexistent because one insurance company would not renew its coverage.
"Our legislature needs to take action on this problem immediately before it's too late," Callaghan said.