American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Medical Liability Reform

Surgeons and Medical Liability: A Guide to Understanding Medical Liability Reform

Medical liability in the U.S. is criticized as being costly, inefficient, and inconsistent. This broken system is failing both doctors and patients alike. For more than 40 years, numerous reform efforts have failed to pass legislation that contains costs, stabilizes liability insurance premiums, and meaningfully promotes patient safety. As a result, a number of alternative reform propositions, very different from traditional tort reform, are currently being considered for health system implementation in state and federal legislation. The American College of Surgeons (ACS) has developed this primer to inform ACS Fellows about the history of medical liability as well as alternative, innovative reform approaches to the status quo of tort law in the U.S.

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Saving Lives, Saving Costs

The ACS supports H.R. 2603/S. 1475, the Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act, introduced by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), which would take an innovative approach to address the nation’s broken liability system, and will help to increase the practice of evidence-based health care, improve patient safety, and reduce defensive medicine. Read the ACS’ letters of support for H.R. 2603 and S.1475.

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Health Care Safety Net Enhancement Act

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) mandates that a physician provide care to stabilize a patient who presents at a hospital emergency department. Surgeons in emergency settings provide complex, high-risk surgical care for severely injured patients, often late at night and at the expense of their elective surgery schedules the following day. Unfortunately, the high liability risk associated with providing such care is broadly acknowledged as a key factor contributing to the growing shortage of specialists participating in emergency on-call panels. 

H.R. 836/S. 884, the Health Care Safety Net Enhancement Act, sponsored by Representative Charles Dent (R-PA) and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), is legislation that would improve patient access to emergency care services by providing liability protection through the Federal Tort Claims Act to those providers working under the EMTALA mandate. 

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Liability Protections for Volunteers

The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act of 2015, H.R. 865, introduced in the House by Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and David Scott (D-GA), would ensure disaster victims’ access to medically necessary care in a federally-declared emergency.  It also provides liability protections to medical professionals who volunteer in a federally-declared disaster.  The College supports this legislation as it moves through the legislative process.  The bill has been referred to the House Committees on Energy & Commerce and Judiciary where it awaits any further action.

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H.R. 865 ACS Support Letter

ACS Support Letters

H.R. 2603

S. 1475

S. 884

H.R. 865

External Resources

Health Coalition on Liability and Access

American Tort Reform Association

Doctors for Medical Liability Reform

Contact: Carrie Zlatos