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Pictured from left to right are Ron Hood, MD, president of the OSOS; Jack Beller, MD, chair of the OSMA council on state legislation and regulation; Ken King, JD, OSMA executive director; Gary Anderson, MD, BOC delegate; Scott Dunitz, MD, immediate past president of the OSOS.

AAOS Now

Published 8/1/2009
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Ronald G. Hood, MD

AAOS assists tort reform in Oklahoma

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there”

Will Rogers, one of Oklahoma’s favorite native sons, gained national fame with his wit and sharp political satire—and the above quote is just an example of his down-home advice. Following his suggestion, the Oklahoma State Medical Society (OSMA) has been on the right track since 2002. Even though we were “run over” a few times, we kept moving forward and that track has led us to successful medical liability reform.

Our first attempt at tort reform began in 2002, but was ultimately unsuccessful. By 2004, the legislature passed a reform bill that included caps on noneconomic damages, but the measure was later declared unconstitutional by the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. Efforts led by OSMA were eventually successful again in 2007. The bill passed both Houses but was then vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry, despite his campaign promises.

A new coalition
The OSMA persistently continued its efforts to craft a bill and formed a coalition with state business leaders. AAOS fellow Jack J. Beller, MD, who chaired the OSMA Council on State Legislation and Regulation, was instrumental in these endeavors. Finally, in 2009, as OSMA’s efforts intensified, Dr. Beller and officers of the Oklahoma State Orthopaedic Society (OSOS) applied for a Health Policy Action Grant from the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Both houses of the state legislature passed the omnibus tort reform bill (HB 1603) with lopsided majorities (83-13 in the House and 45-1 in the Senate). But because the measure was basically identical to the previous 2007 bill, initial exuberance began to turn to anxiety as limited means were available to sway the governor. The OSMA political action funds had been completely exhausted. In the nick of time, the additional funds from the AAOS Health Policy Action Grant arrived.

The funds were used to form a phone bank that logged more than 9,000 calls to healthcare professionals. The calls urged healthcare professionals to contact the governor’s office and express support of the comprehensive tort reform bill (HB 1603). The message was effective, and Gov. Henry reversed his previous position and signed the bill into law.

Finally, Oklahoma has meaningful tort reform. The bill includes a cap on noneconomic damages, requires an expert witness to precertify the validity of a lawsuit, and eliminates joint and several liability. As a result, it should help stem the tide of physicians leaving the state.

Other reforms also passed
Among the favorable bills that also passed this legislative session was a professional transparency bill measure ensuring that insurance precertification is a guarantee of payment as long as certain conditions are met.

At an OSOS meeting in May, OSMA executive director Ken King voiced his appreciation to the OSOS and the AAOS for their assistance in the tort reform effort. In turn, the OSOS expresses thanks to Susan Koshy, AAOS manager of state society and legislative affairs, and Dr. Beller for their assistance to us. Special thanks go to the AAOS for its generosity in providing not only the Health Policy Action Grant but also an organizational grant to enhance our membership recruitment and reorganization efforts.

The battle in the states
I believe the foresight of the AAOS in assisting the state societies has been extremely important. Many states have seen a decline in resources and memberships; in some cases, the very survival of the state society has been threatened. The tools available from the AAOS can be very useful in counteracting this trend.

For example, the OSOS has taken advantage of Web site development and speaker sponsorships, in addition to grants. The State Strategy meetings at the National Orthopaedic Leadership Conference (NOLC) have been beneficial, reminding us that the problems we face are not unique to our society and providing ideas that work in other states. One of the highlights of the 2009 NOLC was the visit to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, MD. As a respected source on health care in the Senate, he presented a frank discussion on the coming healthcare reform debate.

Indeed, state societies may be more valuable now than at any other time in history. We can conduct the grass roots efforts in recruiting patients as advocates, as Sen. Coburn suggested. Our patients may become our most valuable partners in successfully influencing healthcare reform.

Ronald G. Hood, MD, is president of the Oklahoma State Orthopaedic Society. He can be reached at brocabone@aol.com

Editor’s Note: Articles labeled Orthopaedic Risk Manager are presented by the Medical Liability Committee under the direction of contributing editor Douglas W. Lundy, MD.

Articles are provided for general information and are not legal advice; for legal advice, consult a qualified professional.

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