Philadelphia Inquirer, March 15, 2002
Despite a new state bill, the foundation has decided to spend $3.2 million over two years to study the continuing legal, medical, economic problem.
By Josh Goldstein
Inquirer Staff Writer
Having passed a medical-malpractice bill on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania General Assembly may be done with the liability crisis, but the Pew Charitable Trusts believes the issue is not going away.The Philadelphia-based foundation will spend $3.2 million over the next two years to create a nonpartisan malpractice project run by health-care and legal experts with no stake in the politics of the issue here.
The goal is to study the malpractice system in Pennsylvania and develop long-term policy solutions. Malpractice premiums for doctors and hospitals have risen dramatically in the last two years, catching health-care providers in an economic crunch between rising expenses and stagnant or declining reimbursements for medical care.
"We don't have any predetermined outcome," said Rebecca Rimel, Pew's president and chief executive officer. "All we want is thoughtful solutions that are fact-based and that protect the citizens and patients of the commonwealth."
After months of finger-pointing and bickering among doctors, hospitals, insurers and trial lawyers, Pew hopes its Project on Medical Liability in Pennsylvania can provide policymakers and the public with objective information to help them understand the causes of the malpractice problem here - and offer guidance on solutions.
The Pew project will first assess the impact of the bill the General Assembly passed on Wednesday and then research the ongoing legal, medical and economic elements of malpractice here.
"We are talking about people's access to quality and affordable medical care, and the viability of our state's economy," Rimel said. "We've brought together some of the brightest and most experienced experts to conduct factual analyses and crystallize the issues that are at the root of the medical liability debate."
Doctors and hospitals say patients' access to high-quality health care is endangered as the escalating cost of malpractice premiums causes some physicians to leave the state, retire early, or limit their practices.
Trial lawyers and consumer advocates argue that medical errors are the root cause of malpractice claims and that legal changes that limit injured patients' ability to sue only prevent those negligent doctors and hospitals from being accountable for their actions.
Since the malpractice-premium increases here have begun cropping up across the nation, Pew's Rimel said she hoped the project would have far-reaching impact.
"Imagine," she said, "if Pennsylvania steps to the front of the pack by offering up some really innovative solutions."
William M. Sage, a professor at Columbia Law School, will direct the project. He is a nationally recognized health-law expert who is both a lawyer and doctor.
"In a crisis, most of the information that is developed tends to come from the interested parties," Sage said. "We are going to be very careful in this project to examine all the possible sources of the problem and look at issues that have been raised by all the traditional stakeholders in the debate."
The doctors, hospitals and lawyers have spent millions of dollars on radio commercials, newspaper ads and lobbying to promote their points of view.
But Pew wants to give the public and policymakers access to information from academic experts untainted by the partisan bitterness of Pennsylvania's malpractice debate.
The Pennsylvania Economy League, a local nonprofit organization, will be a key partner in the project. The economy league will help guide the research and ensure that the results are disseminated across the state.
"Medical liability and its potential effects on access to [health] care are recurring, major issues in Pennsylvania," said Karen Miller, executive director of the economy league's state office. "Through this project, [Pew] will supply important, balanced information and new ideas to the ongoing discussion."
Contact Josh Goldstein
at 215-854-4733 or firstname.lastname@example.org