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Medical Malpractice:
Rendell forms task force to look at med-mal insurance crisis

By Kristy Mitchell - PaTLA communications associate

Below is a summary of Gov. Elect Ed Rendell's press conference on medical malpractice issues held on Nov. 20. I was in attendance along with several other trial lawyers. At the end of this article is a list of Task Force members.

Ed Rendell's message to doctors is clear: "Relief is on the way." The Governor-elect announced today the creation of a Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Crisis Task Force. The task force, formed through a partnership between Rendell and Pew Charitable Trusts, will investigate short and long-term solutions to the medical malpractice crisis in Pennsylvania.

The task force consists of a cross-section of stakeholders, including physicians, lawyers, insurance executives, organized labor, and the business community. Rendell said that, "Given the immediate crisis, I am asking all stakeholders to work together with my Task Force so that the Task Force can present to me an interim report that addresses both the short-term and long-term solutions to this crisis within 60 days." Within 6 months, Rendell hopes to have a long-term solution in the works.

One short-term solution Rendell asked the Task Force to investigate is a 6 month suspension of doctor payments to the MCare Fund. This would allow time for the Task Force to research changes to the Fund that will help in the long-term. Another solution Rendell proposed was a state bond for doctors that would allow them to stretch out their payments to the Fund. In proposing this, Rendell cited the Connecticut Second-Injury Fund surcharges that got out-of-hand. The solution to that problem was a bond that stretched out the payments to the Fund, thus reducing costs to businesses.

Rendell also proposed, as a solution, a multi-state coalition to raise reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare. This solution would involve going to the federal government to request higher reimbursements and a waiver to increase reimbursements to challenged specialties, such as orthopedics and obstetrics.

In the long-term, Rendell will examine the tort reform system. He emphasized that caps on non-economic damages are not the solution. When asked about caps, Rendell stated that caps are not the "silver bullet." He cited California's caps system, and stated that premiums there went up 40 % this year. Rendell also said that he spoke with insurers that left the state, and when they were asked whether caps would bring them back to Pennsylvania, he was told they would not. He also highlighted the fact that there was no tort reform in the '90's and there was low-bidding occurring between insurers in Pennsylvania.

Rendell said that the insurance industry's investment practices need to be examined by the Task Force. He said there should be proper oversight of insurers' investments. Rendell also discussed the Task Force finding a way to bring insurers back to the state. He said a major part of the problem in Pennsylvania is the lack of competition.

Another solution proposed by Rendell is to investigate how doctors and hospitals police themselves.

According to Rendell, the goal of the Task Force is to create a "frank and honest discussion and form a consensus on where to go in the short and long-term." He said that every aspect of the crisis can be researched. This would involved studying other states and practices in other areas, as well as using current research to support ideas.

Rendell's message to doctors was clear, "relief is on the way." He promised short-term relief by January 1, and said he is working with Governor Schweiker on short-term solutions. That may involve emergency legislation. When asked about doctors' denial of coverage as of Jan. 1, Rendell said there is an effort to allow doctors to practice in the interim without coverage. Rendell also said that steps taken by the Pennsylvania Legislature earlier this year, including Act 13 and the repeal of Joint and Several Liability, were steps in the right direction, but they are not going to solve the problem.

According to Rebecca Rimel, President of the Pew Charitable Trusts, the best experts, best minds, and most accurate data will be used in the research of the Task Force.

The next stop for Rendell in his mission to bring an end to the crisis is Scranton, where he will address the economic realities facing doctors there.

Task Force Members:
Chair: Abraham J. Gafni-Professor, Villanova University School of Law
Trial Lawyers: Cliff Haines-of the law firm Clifford E. Haines, Esq.; Robert J. Mongeluzzi-founder of law firm Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky; Bill Caroselli-partner in the law firm of Caroselli Beachler McTiernan & Conboy; Bernard Smalley-partner in the law firm Anapol Schwartz Weiss Cohen Feldman & Smalley; Tom Cooper-partner in the law firm Gilardi Cooper & Lomupo; Gerald McHugh-partner in the firm of Litvin Blumberg Matusow & Young
Defense Lawyers: John Pumphrey-litigator at the firm of Silverman Bernheim & Vogel; Lawrence Silverman-senior litigator at the firm of Silverman Bernheim & Vogel; Peter Hoffman-shareholder in the law firm of McKissock and Hoffman; James R. Kahn-attorney at the Margolis Edelstein law firm; Deborah Olszewski-partner at the law firm of Olszewski and Quinlann
Health Care Organizations: Andrew Wigglesworth-President of Delaware Valley Healthcare Council; Caroline F. Scanlan-President & CEO of Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Medical Society/Physicians: Roger Mecum-Executive Vice President of Pa. Medical Society; Dr. James Tayoun, Jr.-Chairman of Surgery at St. Agnes Hospital; Nancy Roberts-Chair of Jefferson Health System and practicing OB/GYN; Dr. Ana McKee
Insurance Representatives: Christopher Cashman-Senior Vice President for Corporate and Public Affairs of Independence Blue Cross; Ross Bertossi-Vice President of Medical Risk of ACE INA; Peter Leone; Tom Gaudiosi
Legislative Representatives: Donna Malpezzi-staff member for the Pa. Senate Republican Caucus; C.J. Hafner-staff member for the Pa. Senate Democratic Caucus; Mike Schwoyer-staff member for the Pa. House Republican Caucus; Ed Haines-staff member for the Pa. House Democratic Caucus
Labor Representative: David H. Wilderman-Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO
Business Representative: Dale High-Chair of the Pa. State Chamber of Commerce

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