Health care costs in Texas did not drop after passage of a 2003 constitutional amendment limiting medical malpractice awards, despite promises made to voters by tort reform supporters.
According to Mary Ann Roser of the American-Statesman, the results of a highly-regarded study by several researchers, including University of Texas law professor Charles Silver, showed that Medicare spending did not change in certain Texas counties where the risk for medical malpractice claims was higher. The theory was that, with the advent of medical malpractice award caps, the doctors in high risk counties would practice less “defensive medicine” as their worry about potential malpractice claims diminished and in turn, Medicare spending would fall. The researchers looked at Medicare spending in 2002 through 2009 and found no difference in spending after tort reform in the high or low risk counties, and found that doctors in the high risk counties actually did slightly more procedures. (A report by the Ralph Nader-founded consumer group, Public Citizen, claimed that Medicare spending in Texas actually rose much faster than the national average after tort reform.)
“If tort reform reduces spending, it would have the biggest effect on high-risk counties,” Professor Silver said. He noted those counties tend to be urban with large populations. Indeed, health care spending has increased annually in every state, including the 30 with malpractice award limits, according to the researchers.
Another study, also by Professor Silver’s group, found that after the Texas constitutional amendment, malpractice lawsuits and payouts dropped sharply, but disputes tort reformers’ claims of “a mass exodus of Texas doctors [leaving the state] before tort reform and huge increases afterward.”
One proponent of the Texan tort reform claimed that more physicians came to their state after tort reform was passed. Professor Silver and his fellow researcher found, however, that it was not accurate, that the data relied upon by the pro-tort reformer did not account for doctors who left Texas or retired, creating vacancies; doctors who performed administrative roles and did not treat patients; and doctor growth in other states. Weighing those factors, the researchers found that the number of direct patient care physicians in Texas grew more slowly after tort reform than before. In fact, after the malpractice caps were in place, Texas did slightly worse that other states in attracting doctors.
We already have many tort reforms in place in Arizona, yet our legislators are frequently persuaded by pro-insurance lobbyists to consider enacting tort reform measures. Hopefully they will look carefully at Texas and other states before they take any action further limiting our rights.
If you have any questions about a medical malpractice case you may have, please call me at (480) 833-1113. I offer a free consultation and would be happy to meet with you in my office or somwhere else that would be more convenient for you.
Attorney Profile: Kevin J. Chapman, Personal Injury & Medical Malpractice Attorney