By an overwhelming majority, the Republican-ruled Virginia House of Delegates rejected Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s veto of a bill that would boost the limit on court awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. The bill represented a compromise among Virginia’s doctors, insurers and attorneys with strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate. The support held in a 93-7 House override in the General Assembly’s single-day session to consider McDonnell’s vetoes and amendments.
The result of two years’ worth of negotiations between the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association (VTLA) and the Medical Society of Virginia (MSV), the agreement maintains an aggregate medical malpractice cap for the next 20 years, while providing for a modest $50,000 annual increase to the current $2 million cap—representing an average annual increase of roughly 2 percent—beginning July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2032.
The agreement satisfies several key requirements for MSV. It retains Virginia’s total cap; establishes an agreement for a long period of time; minimizes the risk of large premium increases; and delays the effective date of any increases. Overall, the agreement is expected to help strengthen the long-term predictability and stability of medical malpractice insurance, while having a nominal effect on insurance premiums.
There will be no legislative efforts by VTLA to eliminate the total cap, amend the cap to apply only to non-economic damages or create a second cap within the total cap. In addition, the agreement preserves potential avenues for further tort reform beyond the medical malpractice cap. MSV’s Medical Liability Advisory Group will continue to explore opportunities for effective reform, such as the pilot programs included within the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act.
“Virginia currently has a climate that has effectively stabilized malpractice premiums, and attracted healthcare service providers to the Commonwealth,” McDonnell explained in his veto. “Virginia’s $2 million cap is the highest all-encompassing cap in the nation, and was last raised in 2008. Raising the cap for medical malpractice judgments to $3 million over the next twenty years, without further reforms in the medical malpractice litigation system, will not meaningfully protect against healthcare cost increases.
“Federal health reform law mandates, currently in litigation, will cost Virginia an estimated $2 billion over the next 10 years, and is creating great uncertainty in the healthcare system. Adding to system costs at this time without other offsets should not occur. While I commend the affected stakeholders for working diligently together, increasing the medical malpractice cap will ultimately lead towards higher healthcare costs for doctors, hospitals, businesses and, most importantly, patients.”