Massachusetts Medical Society: Liability Protections During COVID-19

Liability Protections During COVID-19

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Liability Protections for Physicians and Health Care Providers during the COVID-19 Emergency

During this unprecedented crisis, physicians are providing care under extreme circumstances that may require challenging and painful decisions about how to allocate limited and potentially life-saving resources and how to provide the best clinical care under such severe constraints. Physicians – both those providing direct COVID-19 care and those continuing to provide other medically necessary care – fear an unreasonable increase in civil liability exposure that does not appropriately reflect the provision of care and clinical decisions made in a crisis situation due to patient surge or scarcity of resources. Although many liability protections exist for volunteers responding to this pandemic on both the state and federal level, these enhanced liability protections do not apply to most paid physicians.

The Medical Society began advocating for increased liability protections for physicians and health care workers in March in with a letter to Governor Baker, Secretary Sudders, and legislative leadership, joined by 16 medical specialty societies. After many conversations between the Medical Society and the Administration, the Command Center, and the legislature about the critical need for these liability protections, Governor Baker filed legislation, S.2630, An Act to Provide Liability Protections for Health Care Workers and facilities during the COVID-19 Pandemic, providing civil immunity for health care providers and facilities providing medical care during the COVID-19 public health emergency, absent gross negligence or other reckless or willful misconduct.

MMS continued to advocate forcefully to legislative leadership, urging Senate President Spilka and Speaker DeLeo to pass the legislation. On Monday, April 13th the state legislative committee on Financial Services held a virtual hearing on S.2630. The Medical Society submitted written testimony in strong support of S.2630 and urged the legislature to act swiftly to enact these critical protections to ensure health care providers do not face increased risk of unreasonable liability exposure and can instead focus on providing the best patient care possible under the most trying of circumstances. Additionally, the Medical Society sent out a Call To Action for all members to contact their state representatives and senators and urge passage of S.2630. Our members took decisive action and hundreds of physicians and medical students contacted their legislators, underscoring the importance of this bill.

Heeding this important call, the legislature responded quickly and passed the legislation on Friday, April 17th and recognizing the time sensitive nature of these liability protections, the legislature attached an emergency preamble, making the law effective immediately upon its being signed into law by the Governor. A summary of the law is available here.

Passage of this law is incredibly important for physicians and health care providers and provides critically needed liability protections to health care workers on the front lines as they work overtime to care for patients and the public health. Importantly, this law strikes a careful balance, addressing the unprecedented needs and circumstances created by this pandemic while still protecting patients’ rights.

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