Friday, January 24, 2020

The Need for Medical Malpractice Reform Legislation

In July 2019, a jury in Baltimore City awarded $229 million to a child born very prematurely at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The judge reduced the award to $205 million because of the state cap on non-economic damages. The child, now about five years old, has significant developmental delays.

Though I was not involved in the case, it does not appear to me that this baby’s outcome is a result of the care provided by the hospital. What is clear is that the verdict amount does not reflect the true cost of caring for this child. The jury awarded five times more than what the Plaintiff’s experts estimated it would cost to care for the child throughout its lifetime. While attorneys generally take 30-40% of a settlement as commission, which is $70-$80 million in this case, this still leaves the Plaintiff with significantly more than what is needed.

I did not see this covered in the newspaper stories about this case. It also wasn’t reported that the baby’s medical costs are already being paid for by the taxpayers through Medicaid. This means that the true “economic damages” are far less than what was projected at trial. Johns Hopkins will continue to fight this case in court, but if the finding stands, news outlets have reported that it would be the largest payout in malpractice history.

We need a way to reimburse people and families who have been harmed by medical care. Although I don’t believe that the care at the hospital was the cause of the baby’s poor outcome, I do believe that society should cover the needs of the disabled.

That being said, this case should cause all citizens to be concerned. In the U.S., medical care is already very expensive. All hospitals have malpractice insurance and the cost of that insurance is passed on to the patient. The current insurance system provides coverage for the occasional need to pay claims at amounts much lower than that of this child’s case.

If these $200 million judgements stand, hospitals, even large hospital systems, won’t be able to afford medical malpractice insurance. No insurance or reinsurance company would accept risks of this magnitude and hospitals cannot put themselves at risk for claims like this without insurance. If this $205 million-dollar payout holds, hospitals may seriously consider closing their delivery rooms.

So, what is the solution? I believe that our next step in Maryland is to create rational “life care plans” where experts calculate the true expenses that a family will see over the projected life of their child. In a subsequent step, I believe we should limit the amount of money that attorneys can make from the settlements. The state of New York is already doing this. Click here to see the limits that have been implemented. 

Last week, I attended a meeting with Maryland state legislators, that was organized by the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA), where we discussed the need for malpractice reform in our state. Stay tuned.

Highlighting the Positives
On a lighter note, I recently took part in a segment of the podcast, Baltimore Positive, where I shared many of the great things that are going on in our HealthCare system. Our efforts in behavioral health and all the great things we’re doing for our community and the city of Baltimore are making a tangible difference in people’s lives. You can listen to it here. It was a conversation hosted by Nestor Aparicio (former sports writer and radio station owner) and former Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler (D). Brian Frazee, Vice President of Government Affairs for the MHA, was also on the broadcast.

Wonderful Accomplishments!
Congratulations to our Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute for achieving QOPI® Re-Certification. Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI®) status reflects our ongoing commitment to quality of care that leads to fundamental changes in the clinical practice of oncology. This recognition reaffirms our work to move towards our vision in cancer care. QOPI®, a program of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, is a three-year certification for outpatient hematology-oncology practices. The initiative is intended to reduce the risk of errors when providing cancer patients with chemotherapy and to provide a framework for best practices in cancer care. QOPI® collects and analyzes data from certified practices, and compares the data using more than 160 evidence-based and consensus quality measures. The information is then provided to participating practices, which can compare their performance to data from across the country to help identify potential areas for continued quality improvement.

I also want to congratulate The Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute for opening a satellite location in Owings Mills. The center provides medical oncology and is led by Ari Elman, MD, one of our board-certified hematologists and medical oncologists. The office has five infusion chairs staffed by the Berman Cancer Institute's oncology-certified infusion nurses. In addition, patients have access to clinical trials, oncology support services, and a connection to all the resources of the Institute and the GBMC HealthCare system.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yesterday, we hosted our 5th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration, which commemorated Dr. King’s life and vision. This year’s program, titled More Than Meets the Eye, featured our keynote presenter, Father Joseph L. Muth, Jr., and live music from the Parkville High School Choir.

After Father Muth, Jr.’s speech, we presented the Spirit of King Award, which recognizes an individual who embodies the spirit and life's work of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and who is dedicated to serving their local community. The winner of this year’s Spirit of King award was Meghan Shackelford, MSN, CRNP-AC, Director of Advanced Practitioners. Please join me in congratulating Meghan and all the nominees!

I am grateful to my colleagues on the Diversity and Inclusion Council for hosting this event and helping to make us a more inclusive organization. Thanks also to the Parkville High School Choir and our Black History Month committee for putting together such an outstanding celebration.

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