Jan. 31, 2019

HARRISBURG – Rep. Jeff Wheeland (R-Lycoming) joined House Republican leaders, Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Alleghany), Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and Policy Committee Chairman Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest) on Wednesday, in calling on the state court system to leave certain legal reforms in place that prevented a health care crisis in 2002 from worsening.

The state court system is looking to repeal one of its rules on medical malpractice lawsuits, which doctors say will cause their insurance rates to skyrocket and force them to increase prices or close up shop and retire. They worry that patients will lose their trusted doctors and that many will be traveling long distances for care. Medical innovation and the recruitment of physicians and specialists would be almost impossible, as it started to become in the early 2000s.

Health care providers joined lawmakers in calling for a public hearing to examine the negative impact that such an action would have on the state’s doctors and patients. A video of the press conference can be viewed here.

“It is absolutely incredible to think that the court is considering such a plan after all of the progress that has been made on this issue during the past 17 years,” said Wheeland. “Pennsylvania is known for its world-renowned doctors and specialists and it would be a shame for us to lose them to neighboring states, especially as we face an aging population that is in great need of health care.”

In the early 2000s, medical malpractice civil lawsuits from all over Pennsylvania were being steered to Philadelphia for trial, even if none of the alleged malpractice actually took place there. This is due to the fact that Philadelphia juries routinely awarded substantially higher payouts compared to other counties. Many doctors, including family practice, OB-GYNs, orthopedists, neurosurgeons and other specialists, retired early, closed entirely or moved to other states. That led to higher health care costs overall and patients losing their physicians and specialists. Access to health care suffered statewide.

The legislative and judicial branches acted together to address this crisis. In 2002, the Legislature enacted a series of legal reforms relating to medical malpractice liability insurance. One of those reforms prevented plaintiffs’ lawyers in medical malpractice cases from shopping around for a court venue. Then in 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a rule that mirrors one of those reforms, so that medical malpractice cases must be brought in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred.

“House Republicans worked with the courts to put an end to the medical malpractice crisis and their reforms saved our Commonwealth from a staggering doctor shortage and out-of-control prices for consumers,” Wheeland added. “I hope that the courts listen to these doctors and the public and that they leave these reforms in place. I look forward to the public hearing and encourage residents of the 83rd District to make their voices heard.”

Residents can visit PAGOPPolicy.com before Feb. 22 to leave a comment about how a reversal of this rule could hurt their health care.

The General Assembly can submit comments on the pending change until Feb. 22.
The public hearing, to be held by the House Majority Policy Committee, will take place on Feb. 12 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem so that the committee can hear more about the negative impact the repeal of this rule could have on the health care community and on patients.

Representative Jeff Wheeland
83rd District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Alison Basley
RepWheeland.com / Facebook.com/RepWheeland