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Supreme Court Committee Postpones Consideration of Venue Rule Change

February 14, 2019

Following significant outcry from the hospital community, health care leaders, business leaders, and policymakers, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Civil Procedural Rules Committee today announced that it will delay making changes to a key medical liability rule until it has reviewed the results of a legislative study.

The study, authorized by Senate Resolution 20, was sponsored by state Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lisa Baker (R–Luzerne); it directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to perform the study of the proposed rule’s potential impacts on access to health care and medical liability rates.

During December 2018, the committee announced a proposed rule to change the venue reforms adopted during 2002, allowing for the return of “venue shopping,” which enabled personal injury attorneys to move claims to counties that have a history of awarding higher payouts to plaintiffs.

“The committee’s action today represents a win for Pennsylvania’s patients and families, whose access to care would be threatened if the commonwealth were subject to another medical liability crisis,” said Jeff Bechtel, HAP’s senior vice president, health economics and policy.

“HAP thanks Senator Lisa Baker, Representative Donna Oberlander, and policymakers for appreciating the significance of such a change on the health care community. Their persistence in calling for an in depth analysis will help us gain a better understanding of how this proposed rule would affect health care in the commonwealth.”

HAP, alongside the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, lawmakers, and business and health care leaders oppose this proposed rule change. HAP and the hospital community have been vocal in their calls for the committee to withdraw this proposed rule. During the years since a 2002 collaborative venue reform effort stabilized the medical liability crisis in Pennsylvania, there has been no public outcry, no legislative or judicial effort to change the rule, and no evidence to suggest an impact to justice.

Earlier today, the House Republican Policy Committee, led by Representative Donna Oberlander (R–Clarion), held a hearing about the rule, during which the committee heard testimony from individual providers, health systems, and insurers.

St. Luke’s University Health Network’s testimony spoke to the real impact on the cost to health care through increases in medical liability insurance, and cited the historical evidence as to why the current venue rule is in place.

In addition to the concerns expressed by St. Luke’s and other providers, Penn Medicine/Lancaster General Health’s testimony took another angle, speaking to the impact of this rule on true community hospitals. The testimony underscored that the connection to the individuals, patients, and families are strong and, therefore, should a medical malpractice case be brought forward, it should be brought before a jury of their peers or by the community they serve.

Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network’s testimony expressed its concern for being able to recruit and retain qualified physician specialists. Increased premiums due to the increased costs of defense directly impacted by the venue rule change would price Good Shepherd “out of competition for necessary qualified physician specialists”. Moreover, Good Shepherd told the panel that, due to a mere consideration in venue change, one of its medical liability insurers no longer would write coverage for organizations doing business in counties like Philadelphia.

HAP will continue to monitor efforts to erode the medical liability climate in Pennsylvania. For more information, contact Jeff Bechtel, senior vice president, health economics and policy, or Stephanie Watkins, vice president, state legislative advocacy.

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