Health professionals refute report that Texas tort reform is a failure

Marilyn Tennissen Oct. 21, 2011, 10:32am


AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) - In spite of a recent report calling the Texas reform of medical liability litigation a "failed experiment," a group of medical professionals in the state still maintains the reforms are a success.

On Oct. 12, the non-profit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen released "A Failed Experiment," a report critical of the 2003 tort reforms in Texas.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who signed the reforms into law, is currently touting the success of the reforms as part of his presidential campaign.

But in its report, Public Citizen says the reforms, including the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages that patients could recover from doctors, have done nothing to cut healthcare costs.

"Despite the sales campaign to promote Texas as an exhibit of the merits of limiting doctors' liability for mistakes, the real world data tell the opposite story," said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division and author of the report. "Health care in Texas has become more expensive and less accessible since the state's malpractice caps took effect."

But the Texas Alliance for Patient Access says the criticism is unfounded because the reforms were never intended to reduce spending. The Texas Alliance for Patient Access is a statewide coalition of healthcare professionals working to improve patient access to healthcare through various reforms.

"We never claimed that lawsuit reform would reduce consumer healthcare costs," Jon Opelt, executive director of the Texas Alliance For Patient Access, said in an Oct. 17 interview with Physicians Practice. "The purpose of lawsuit reform was to improve access to care. It did that."

The report is critical of supporters of tort reform who maintain that caps free doctors from worrying about being wiped out by a malpractice lawsuit and therefore stop ordering a multitude of often unnecessary tests. Advocates for reform also claim that since the reforms of 2003 were enacted, many doctors and specialists have returned to practice in Texas and have expanded services to even the poorest parts of the state.

The report from Public Citizen says however, that tort reform has "failed" because it has not reduced healthcare costs.

Opelt said the report is using "disconnected" issues to make its point.

Dr. Bruce Malone, president of the Texas Medical Association, told Physicians Practice that spending should not have even been a part of the report.

"When we campaigned for tort reform, we never promised it would lower the cost of medical care," he said in the article.

The reforms have "dramatically" changed Texas healthcare for the better, Malone said.

Opelt said now that physicians are seeing their liability insurance premiums dramatically reduced, more money is available for patient care.

Medical professionals are also showing their support for medical tort reforms on a national level. On Oct. 4, the American Medical Association appealed to the Joint Congressional Committee on Deficit Reduction to reform the country's broken medical liability system. The physicians group says reforms would save American taxpayers billions of dollars while protecting patients' access to care.

A total of 98 state and specialty medical societies joined the AMA by co-signing letters delivered to the deficit committee asking members to include meaningful liability reforms in their final legislative package.

"Reforming the costly and inefficient medical liability system with proven solutions will save taxpayers money," AMA President Dr. Peter W. Carmel said in a statement.

"Comprehensive reforms that include a reasonable limit on non-economic damages would reduce the federal budget deficit by $62.4 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office."

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