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Pa. Lawmakers Discuss ‘Very Concerning’ Venue Shopping Rule

HAP, Pa. health care community warn of fallout from state court decision

September 12, 2022

The return of venue shopping in medical liability cases would have damaging consequences for health care across the commonwealth.

This morning, the Pennsylvania House Majority Policy Committee hosted a hearing focused on how the return of venue shopping in medical liability cases would threaten access to care. Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a decision undoing legal reforms that addressed the state’s medical liability crisis.

In submitted remarks and testimony, HAP and a panel of health care leaders highlighted the decision’s negative impact on the health care workforce, patient care, and hospitals’ already strained finances.

“On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing health care workforce shortages, it is not in the public’s interest to plunge the health care industry in Pennsylvania into crisis,” Michael R. Ripchinski, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAFP, chief physician executive, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, said during testimony today.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The decision:  Legal reforms enacted during 2002 required that medical liability claims be considered in the county where the alleged medical liability occurred. The court’s decision would revert the state back to the prior rule, allowing plaintiffs to “venue shop” for favorable locations to hear their cases.
  • A different landscape:  The number of affiliations among health care systems has increased dramatically during the past 20 years. The court’s ruling opens the door for even more cases to be heard far from where the claim occurred.
  • Historical perspective:  During 2001, Philadelphia had more medical liability trials than any other county in the nation. During 2020, only 24 percent of medical liability cases statewide were filed in Philadelphia, a 71 percent decrease from 2002.
  • Access to care:  Increasing liability costs could significantly reduce access to obstetrics and other specialty services in small rural hospitals and would impact the overall cost of patient care. The cost for liability insurance also poses a significant hurdle to recruit and retain the state’s health care workforce.
  • Quotable:  “This rule change threatens the continued availability and affordability of professional liability insurance, the training and retention of new physicians, and full access to quality health care for the residents of Pennsylvania,” Ripchinski said in his statement.

In submitted remarks, HAP President and CEO Andy Carter called on state lawmakers to work “in a bipartisan way and with your judicial and executive branch colleagues to address this issue.”

“When venue shopping was allowed in Pennsylvania, the result was a crisis that hurt Pennsylvanians’ access to health care,” Carter said.

Last week, HAP and a coalition of 25 leading Pennsylvania health care organizations voiced their strong opposition to the court’s decision in a letter to the majority policy committee. A replay of today’s hearing and HAP’s submitted testimony are available online.

For more information, contact Heather Tyler, HAP’s vice president, state legislative advocacy.