Lawyers Journal

Health Law seminar takes critical look at malpractice issues

On March 1, 2002, the Health Law Section of the Massachusetts Bar Association presented "Health Law Update 2002: Challenging Issues for Health Law Attorneys and Their Clients" in conjunction with the Physicians Insurance Agency (PIAM) of the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS). The daylong seminar included a keynote presentation from Francis X. Rockett, M.D., MMS president.
The program, which was directed toward health-care practitioners who counsel and represent physician clients, included several timely, substantive issues, including: HIPAA privacy rules for physician organizations, fraud and abuse, negotiating provider contracts and reimbursement issues for 2002.
The annual Health Law Update was co-chaired by Ellen L. Janos of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo and Michael T. Kogut of Murtha Cullina Roche Carens & DeGiacomo. In addition to the formal program components, Rockett spoke candidly with the day's participants during lunch.
In his address, entitled "Critical Condition: Physician Practices and the Future of Massachusetts Health Care," Rockett raised a number of significant issues physician and physician practices currently face. Amid declining Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, Rockett discussed physician practices in the context of a 10-year period that showed either flat or declining reimbursements from managed-care companies. The MMS president also alluded to other external pressures imposed on physician practices, including federal and state government scrutiny of physician relationships with hospitals and other health care organizations.
Rockett serves as president of the oldest continuously operating medical society in the nation, which has more than 17,000 physician and student members. He practices neurosurgery in Newton and holds appointments at several Boston-area hospitals, including Newton-Wellesley Hospital. As MMS president, Rockett has publicly addressed such issues as the decline of physician practices in Massachusetts, inadequate recognition by the Health Care Task Force Report of unprecedented challenges faced by physicians in maintaining their practices, hospital closures and Attorney General Thomas Reilly's investigation into alleged anti-competitive behavior.
Rockett's remarks followed a 90-minute medical malpractice panel that offered three perspectives. After David W. White-Lief addressed plaintiff-related litigation and the need for vigilant examination of medical records when contemplating a claim for malpractice, Michael Mosher of Mirick, O'Connell DeMallie & Lougee offered a detailed analysis of defending claims with emphasis on educating jurors and the need for technical audio-visual assistance in Massachusetts courts.
The plaintiff and defendant perspectives, however, were overshadowed by a presentation from Jack King of PIAM that outlined the increasing cost of insurance premiums along with increasing settlements and awards resulting in fewer opportunities for adequate coverage.
The focus on malpractice claims and their defense was buttressed by comments from Rockett dealing with attorney solicitation of potential malpractice claims resulting from disciplinary actions by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. While no visible solutions to the apparent conflict between lawyers and physicians were forthcoming, the substantive and legal response to peer review and practice before the board were addressed by Paul Cirel of Dwyer and Collora, a noted practitioner before the Board.
In light of the success of the Health Law Program, the section council is undertaking the appointment of a standing committee to structure and plan an annual MBA Health Law Update in coming years.

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