ACEP leaders, including immediate Past President Alex M. Rosenau, DO, CPE, FACEP, with Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) at a Capitol Hill news conference announcing the introduction of H.R. 836.
WASHINGTON—Medical liability reform for physicians who practice in emergency departments is essential to improving the delivery of patient care, saving costs, and protecting patients in a medical emergency, said Alex M. Rosenau, DO, CPE, FACEP, immediate Past President of ACEP. He was joined today by Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA), who introduced legislation—the Health Care Safety Net Enhancement Act of 2015—to improve emergency care for patients.
The legislation would provide temporary liability protections to physicians (emergency and on-call) who perform medical services mandated by the federal EMTALA [Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act] law. This means the protections cease once patients are determined not to have emergency medical conditions or the emergency conditions are stabilized. The legislation will extend the same legal protections that Congress has extended to employees of community health centers and employees and volunteers at free clinics to physicians who care for emergency patients.
“Some of the most dangerous situations that emergency patients can face are delays in care caused by physician shortages,” said Dr. Rosenau. “Many physicians will not treat emergency patients because of additional liability exposure, and we believe this bill will encourage many specialists to take call in the emergency department. This legislation will help make sure that emergency physicians and on-call specialists continue their lifesaving work and ensure the availability of emergency medical care.”
Rep. Dent said that frivolous lawsuits are driving up the costs of health care.
“The costs of a broken litigation system and defensive medicine are paid by all Americans through higher premiums for health insurance and higher out-of-pocket payments for care,” said Rep Dent. “Without this legislation, the nation will continue to see declines in on-call specialist availability and relocation of emergency physicians to areas of the country where liability environments are more favorable. My colleagues and I are hopeful that in this new Congress, we will finally accomplish federal medical liability reform.”
Michael J. Gerardi, MD, FAAP, FACEP, President of ACEP, said patients will benefit the most.
“Patients benefit more than anyone if health care is more efficient, more realizable, and less expensive,” said Dr. Gerardi. “The bottom line is: We need to ensure that emergency medical care remains available and accessible.”
Emergency departments care for the most severely ill and injured patients who are at greatest risk of dying. Emergency physicians very often are working with little or no knowledge of the patient’s history. In addition, without liability protections, emergency physicians are more likely to do additional tests, procedures, and specialist consultations, because the consequences of a misdiagnosis could lead to costly, time-consuming litigation.
“Research shows that emergency physicians often apply different standards than what they would do for themselves, out of fear of being sued,” said Dr. Rosenau. “For example, a physician might—through an abundance of caution—admit a patient to the hospital. But this can be costly. Health care reform is incomplete without meaningful liability reform, given the standard of care for that injury or illness has been followed. If the federal government is going to require these services to be performed on our behalf, then it’s only right that they assume the liability for that care as well.”
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the legislation at $0—no direct impact on federal spending—when this legislation (H.R. 157 in the 112th Congress) was approved by the House (H.Amdt.989) by voice vote as an amendment to H.R. 5 on March 22, 2012.
Laura Gore is director of public relations at ACEP.