We continue to follow the developing global health events and responses involving the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. The death toll in China is climbing and there are newly arising cases of the infection here in the United States and across the globe. In U.S. politics, health care remains front page news in the race for President, as the candidates for the Democratic nomination faced a barrage of debate questions in advance of the New Hampshire primary election. Here at The Way, we’re taking a closer look at health care issues facing the risk and insurance industry this week.
Litigants in a Florida case that raised questions about whether Florida has a medical-malpractice insurance “crisis” dismissed their suit, removing it from the Florida Supreme Court’s docket before hearing. The state’s high court agreed last December to take up the case, in order to determine whether a medical-malpractice insurance crisis exists to justify limiting monetary damages to non-patient family members in certain malpractice cases. We will continue to monitor professional negligence matters coursing their way through the judicial system.
The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, a joint committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, released its long-anticipated study examining the potential impact of the proposed repeal of the state’s medical malpractice venue rule. For the past 17 years, venue rules in the Keystone State mandated that litigants file medical professional negligence claims in the county where the cause of action arose. The committee concluded that there was insufficient data to assess the impact of changing this venue rule. The report further notes that, given the myriad factors that impact the functioning of this insurance market, it is reasonable to conclude that any significant change will be destabilizing. Legislators have already called for public hearings and a second opinion regarding the report.
FIXED AND DIALATED
An Iowa House judiciary sub-committee heard testimony on a bill that would cap the amount of damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits. The bill would make $250,000 the maximum amount a jury could award for non-economic damages. The cap would not impact economic damages awarded for lost wages or healthcare costs. A number of doctors and medical associations spoke in support of the bill, saying higher awards do not reduce errors and could increase the cost of medical care. We’re tracking the bill’s prognosis.
The Texas Medical Association announced that the Lone Star State’s ratio of patient-care physicians for every 100,000 has reached a record high. The association reported the state’s number of newly licensed physicians bumped up 7.9% from last year. Texas added 4,869 new doctors in 2019, or 355 more than the 2018 total. Based on the new data, there are now nearly 190 physicians for every 100,000 Texans. The TMA attributes this record growth with House Bill 4, a 2003 Medical Malpractice Reform Act that changed the state’s liability climate, making it less likely for lawsuits against physicians and hospitals to be sued by patients.
CHECK THE CHART
The Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services began work on a “report card” for assisted-living facilities in Minnesota. Minnesota is the only state in the nation where assisted-living housing is unregulated. The Minnesota HHS expects that a pilot program will be conducted in September and the online report card development will begin next January. We will report back to you, p.r.n.
Modeled after the “ABC Test” established by AB 5 in California last year, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, HR 2474. This measure would rewrite the definition of independent contractors. Critics of the measure from the transportation sector cite the “B prong of that test” as it prohibits companies from using independent contractors unless the worker was performing work “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business,” which could affect the owner operator model. As employees, such drivers could organize and join unions, when ordinarily independent contractors are prohibited by federal law from organizing.
The California attorney general released the second draft of regulations for the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The updated regulations take into consideration feedback received during a 45-day comment period that ended in December. The attorney general’s office posted a redline version of the revised regulations that includes a more precise definition of personal information, guidance on a button for consumers to opt out of the sale of their personal information, and governance of previously collected data. The AG’s office is accepting comments on the amended proposed regulations until February 25, 2020.
Making Our Way Around the Country
Republican lawmakers in Louisiana pre-filed House Bill 9, the Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2020. The Omnibus bill seeks to increase the time allotted to file a lawsuit from one year to two, reduce the jury trial threshold from $50,000 to $5,000, provide for reduced damages paid from collateral sources, and remove a rule allowing claims to be filed against the insurance company, rather than by the defendant by name. Another insurance-related bill would allow courts to consider whether someone was wearing a seat belt—a provision currently not allowed when mitigating damages. Tort reform is expected to be a top legislative priority for the new Republican leadership in Baton Rouge.
The Colorado Senate passed a bill that would extend worker's compensation to emergency dispatchers involved in traumatic events. Senate Bill 26 would extend the same mental health coverage granted to other law enforcement and first-responders. The bill would establish that "a worker's visual or audible exposure to the serious bodily injury or death is a psychologically traumatic event for the purposes of determining the worker's eligibility for workers' compensation benefits."
Vermont Governor Phil Scott announced that Vermont businesses will see a double-digit rate decrease in workers’ compensation insurance in 2020. The new rates, approved by the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR), become effective on April 1, 2020. This is the fourth straight year of rate decreases since Governor Scott took office and represents the largest decrease in over a decade. Similarly, the Delaware Department of Insurance has analyzed new filings from the state’s top writers of workers’ compensation insurance and expects realized savings of more than $4 million. Coupled with saving opportunities through the Workplace Safety Program, businesses in the First State can earn discounts of up to 19% by providing and maintaining a safe place to work.
211 OVER 2/12
And finally today, particularly in Illinois, we celebrate the 211th Birthday of Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln sagely reminds us that, “we can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” In other news, Valentine’s Day is this Friday. There’s still time. With much affection and admiration, Happy Valentine’s Day from your friends at The Way!