HARRISBURG – House Majority Policy Committee Chairman Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest) said today the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should preserve a procedural court rule on venue that seeks to protect access to health care across the Commonwealth and asked the court to especially consider the harmful impact such a repeal could have on patients.
Oberlander’s comments came in a letter last week, signed by all 10 deputy Policy Committee chairmen, to Pennsylvania Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, which summarized testimony gathered at a Feb. 14 hearing she convened in Harrisburg. The court accepted submissions on the proposed rule through Feb. 22.
“We have heard from countless taxpayers of Pennsylvania concerned about the impact on their health care, as well as from stakeholders about how the repeal of the venue rule will directly affect Pennsylvania’s health care industry,” Oberlander wrote. “The most immediate and primary concern we heard is that the repeal of the venue rule will directly lead to a new medical malpractice crisis, similar to what occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, changes in the health care industry over the past decade would further exacerbate a future crisis.”
During the hearing, testifiers – which included physicians, attorneys, health care professionals and others – recalled the health care crisis of the late 1990s and early 2000s and how skyrocketing medical malpractice premiums paralyzed access to health care, forcing doctors to close their practices or retire early. A 2002 law by the General Assembly and 2003 court rule restricting venue to the county where the alleged action took place resolved the medical malpractice crisis, leading to stability in the court system and the insurance and health care industries.
Specifically, Oberlander noted from the hearing that no one has heard that anyone’s right to seek justice in a medical malpractice claim has been denied. In fact, she said, the rule is working: The reduction in filings in Philadelphia County and stability seen across the insurance and health care industries demonstrate that the current venue rule is working.
The court has decided to postpone a final decision until after January 2020 when the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) conducts a study on how the venue rule repeal could impact Pennsylvania.
“Upon the adjournment of that hearing, we were pleased to learn — by receipt of your letter to House Republican Leadership — that the majority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court chose to postpone consideration of the venue rule change,” Oberlander wrote. “We thank you for this decision, because as we have heard from the many stakeholders, the venue rule will continue to preserve Pennsylvania’s robust health care system. Further, we ask the court to not repeal the venue rule in the future because the venue rule represents the right public policy for Pennsylvanians.”
In the future, Oberlander and the Policy Committee asked that if the court considers repealing this venue rule, that it:
• Study the exact impact of removing the venue rule, particularly how it will affect the delivery of quality health care to all Pennsylvanians.
• Listen to Pennsylvania’s residents, who have submitted comments on a proposed venue rule change to the committee during the comment period.
• Hold a transparent, public hearing similar to the House Majority Policy Committee.
• Preserve the health care of Pennsylvanians by preserving the current venue rule for medical malpractice actions.
Oberlander cautioned that the LBFC study shouldn’t be the factor the court should consider, because the current venue rule is the right public policy. She and her House colleagues are monitoring any developments that may occur, and that additional Policy Committee hearings may be warranted later in the year.
Oberlander also included with her letter all of the testimony gathered at the hearing and comments from residents across the Commonwealth that were sent specifically to the Policy Committee.
The 10 deputy Policy Committee chairmen are Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), Rep. Mindy Fee (R-Lancaster), Rep. Marcia Hahn (R-Northampton), Rep. Zach Mako (R-Lehigh/Northampton), Rep. Eric Nelson (R-Westmoreland), Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware), Rep. Tommy Sankey (R-Clearfield/Cambria), Rep. Craig Staats (R-Bucks), Rep. Justin Walsh (R-Westmoreland) and Rep. Jeff Wheeland (R-Lycoming).
A copy of the letter is available online at PAGOPPolicy.com
Representative Donna Oberlander
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton