AMA Wire

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

This Week's News

Groundbreaking legislation prevents liability suits based on ACA breaches

Groundbreaking legislation prevents liability suits based on ACA breaches

A Georgia bill signed into law Monday has become the first piece of legislation to ensure physicians can exercise their clinical judgment without running afoul of medical liability claims based on new federal regulatory guidelines, including those in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The new law, signed by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (above), was based on AMA model legislation and championed by the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG). The law prohibits the use of payer guidelines and quality criteria outlined in federal law as a legal basis for negligence or standard of care in determining medical liability. Physicians are concerned that without such protections, the medical profession could be exposed to charges of negligence that aren't based on clinical standards or the patient's unique medical needs.

"The new State Physician Shield Act was based on model legislation developed by the AMA to make it clear that federal standards or guidelines designed to enhance access to high-quality health care cannot be used to invent new legal actions against physicians," AMA Board of Trustees member Patrice A. Harris, MD, said in a statement.

Dr. Harris, a psychiatrist based in Atlanta, attended the bill-signing ceremony. She pointed to the groundbreaking nature of the legislation.

"This first-of-its-kind legislation reinforces the concept that medical decisions are made based on a patient's unique medical needs," she said. "Today's bill signing shows yet again that the combined efforts of organized medicine can achieve the best outcomes for patients and physicians."

This state law comes at the same time a similar bill was introduced to Congress. Reps. Phil Gringrey, MD, R-Ga., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, introduced the Standard of Care Protection Act April 10. Much like the Georgia law, this bill would protect physicians and other health care professionals from additional liability suits as a result of national care and practice guidelines derived from the ACA or established in federal programs. It also preserves state medical liability laws.

The AMA submitted a letter of support for the federal legislation.

"We believe that your legislation is necessary because it addresses critical gaps in the ACA and federal programs by providing needed legal protections to physicians for using standards, guidelines and/or their clinical judgment to meet the particular medical care and needs of their patients," the letter states.

In addition to developing the model state legislation, the AMA worked closely with the MAG to secure passage of the important legal protections in Georgia's final bill.

Through the work of its Advocacy Resource Center, the AMA is a tireless advocate for physicians and patients in state legislatures across the country. Last year the center worked hand-in-hand with state and specialty medical associations to secure more than 70 legislative victories, including advancing medical liability reforms, defeating legislation that would have encroached upon the physician-patient relationship and promoting public health.

Read more about the new Georgia law in a recent article in American Medical News.