U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) today stressed the need for legislation he introduced along with Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) — H.R. 1998, the “Health Care Safety Net Enhancement Act of 2009,” which will address the growing shortage of physicians and specialists willing to work in emergency rooms as hospital staff or as on-call providers.

Standing outside the Emergency Room at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Salisbury Township, Congressman Dent noted that current House legislation on health care ignores the issue of medical liability reform, and stressed the urgent need for Congress to act on this issue.

Emergency physicians and on-call specialists perform lifesaving feats everyday, often requiring these physicians to make quick, life-and-death decisions based on minimal information. However, this lifesaving care is inherently risky and exposes these specialists to an increased likelihood of litigation because emergency and trauma patients are often sicker, have more serious complications and usually have no pre-existing relationship with the treating physician. Unfortunately the high risk of being sued and the increased professional liability costs, which are far higher than for those who do not provide such care, have limited the availability of many emergency physicians and on-call specialists.

Under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), any person who seeks emergency medical care at a covered facility is guaranteed an appropriate screening exam and stabilization treatment before transfer or discharge, regardless of their ability to pay. The Health Care Safety Net Enhancement Act addresses this growing crisis in access to emergency care by providing emergency and on-call physicians who provide EMTALA-related services with medical liability protections. Doing so will encourage physicians and on-call specialists to continue their lifesaving work and ensure emergency medical care will be available when and where it is needed.

“The medical liability environment is creating a crisis in access to emergency care for all Americans, the insured and uninsured alike,” Congressman Dent said. “As Congress considers proposals to reform health care access in this country, it is essential that we focus on ensuring that quality health care is available.

“I believe there are certain, specific issues that must be addressed whether we pass a major overhaul or not,” Congressman Dent continued. “This common-sense reform protects those who perform lifesaving work, and assures that we retain the medical personnel needed to provide these services.”

Congressman Dent was joined by LVHN Emergency Department Director Dr. Richard Mackenzie and by Dr. Alex Rosenau, LVHN staff physician and board member of the American College of Emergency Physicians which represents 27,000 emergency physicians nationwide. Dr. Rosenau noted that the liability issue is particularly daunting to younger doctors, and presents a barrier to doctors who might otherwise enter the essential community service of providing emergency care.