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Should Texas Be The Model For Medical Malpractice Reform?

In the last few months, opponents of health care reform have insisted that one key to lowering health care costs is the adoption of “tort reform” by capping the damages that can be recovered in medical malpractice cases.

For some time now, I’ve been urging people to look at the Texas medical malpractice  “experiment”  to see if those claims were right. In 2003, the Texas legislature re-wrote Texas medical malpractice laws and put in place some of the most restrictive caps in the country. And where has it gotten us?

I’ve argued in the past that the Texas experiment proves that damage caps don’t help people. For instance, since the caps were put in place, the cost of health care has increased for Texas consumers. Similarly, Texans were promised that tort reform would significantly increase the number of doctors in areas of the state that traditionally have trouble finding medical care. By and large, that hasn’t occurred.

Now, a new study by Public Citizen not only helps prove my arguments, but shows that the results are even worse than I imagined. Have health care costs gone down since the adoption of Texas’s tort reform laws? No. In fact, the contrary has occurred. Since 2004, per patient Medicare spending (one of the best indicators of health care costs) has risen in Texas at nearly twice the national average. Similarly, tort reform supporters argue that doctors continually run unnecessary tests because they are scared of being sued. But the data shows that the increase in testing expenses in Texas has grown at a much higher rate than the national average.

Surely health insurance premiums for Texas consumers have been getting better since “tort reform”? Wrong again. Texas premiums have increased 144 percent for families since the adoption of tort reform. And that increase is just about at the national average.

Maybe medical malpractice caps haven’t decreased costs, but the reforms must be allowing new doctors to come to Texas, right? Yes and no. The number of doctors has increased since 2003. But that’s misleading. The growth in number of physicians per capita has increased at a much lower rate than we were growing prior to “tort reform.” Similarly, there is little, if any, difference in the number of doctors in the rural parts of area — the areas that really need doctors. In rural areas, the number of direct care physicians per capita is almost identical to what it was in 2003. And by and large, areas that were without various specialists are still without those specialists.

So what are we getting for “tort reform”? As a Dallas news-reporter noted:

So did Texans benefit from “tort reform”?

Doctors, some.

Insurance companies? A lot.

Most Texans probably couldn’t say.

But if you lost your baby after a difficult delivery, tort reform may have taken away your ability to find answers.

 We now have over five years of data showing that medical malpractice caps don’t produce the promised benefits.  The government shouldn’t take the mistakes that we’ve made in Texas and implement them all over the country.

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