Georgia’s Physician Shield Law, the Affordable Care Act and Medical Malpractice Liability

Layborn-9371-IMG1-OPTBy Nicholas J. Laybourn

Special to Business in Savannah

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, which outlines comprehensive U.S. health insurance reforms that will officially take effect in 2014, providing healthcare coverage for millions of previously uninsured Americans. The Act has raised a number of questions and concerns about the law’s potential impact on medical practitioners.

The Affordable Care Act will lead to substantive changes in the nation’s healthcare system, including significant alterations in the way medical expenses are reimbursed by the federal government. In addition, a new government mandate will expand the use of electronic medical records and establish new insurance regulations.

One of the biggest unanswered questions for healthcare providers is the impact the Affordable Care Act could have on medical malpractice liability. Under the current state of medical malpractice law, a physician’s care and treatment of a patient is judged by the standard of care. The standard of care is defined as such degree of skill and care as would ordinarily be employed by physicians under similar and like surrounding circumstances.

Although the Affordable Care Act doesn’t directly address the issue of medical malpractice, it does raise concerns for healthcare providers as to whether the Act will be used to expand the standard of care, thereby increasing exposure to medical malpractice liability.

That concern led to the passage of H.B. 499, which Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law in May. Known as the “Provider Shield Act,” this legislation helps protect Georgia physicians from medical malpractice liability claims that are not related to the practice of medicine and are instead tied to administrative compliance with the Affordable Care Act. The law itself was based on model legislation drafted by the American Medical Association’s Advocacy Resource Center. Georgia is the first state to pass medical shield legislation.

The new Georgia law prevents administrative payment guidelines from being introduced as the standard of care in malpractice suits and is designed to protect physicians from liability for breaching federal statutes, regulations, programs, guidelines or other provisions. Under H.B. 499, any evidence related to federal guidelines would not be admissible in court and could not be used as a presumption of negligence in any medical malpractice lawsuit in the state.

In the end, the Affordable Care Act will lead to major changes in America’s health care system, many of which could potentially impact medical malpractice liability. It’s important for hospitals, physicians and healthcare providers to consult with an attorney to determine the best course of action to minimize exposure to medical malpractice lawsuits before and after the Act is fully implemented in 2014.