A new study of Texas’s tort reform by Public Citizen indicates it does not do what politicians promised it would. Enacted in 2003, the law puts limits on the money victims receive in medical malpractice lawsuits. The politicians claimed the damage caps were supposed to reduce healthcare costs, reduce health care insurance premiums, and bring more doctors to the state.
In reality, the Star-Telegram reports the Public Citizen study shows the damage caps accomplished none of its goals. Instead of going down, both healthcare costs and insurance premiums in Texas have continued to rise even faster than the national average. Furthermore, according to the study, there was no significant impact on the number of physicians per capita in the state. Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Austin, Texas office said, “this report shows that the rest of the nation should not hold up Texas as a model. The only winners are the doctors and insurance companies.”
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A doctors’ advocacy group, the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, supports the tort reform law anyway. Chairman Howard Marcus argues that his group never said that tort reform would lower healthcare costs. Instead, he pointed out that the amount of malpractice payments, and as a result, the amount doctors pay for malpractice insurance has gone down. In fact he also claimed that the doctors are using the savings to improve patient services. On the other hand, he refused to provide concrete proof of this statement. You would think if it were true that the doctors were using the money to improve patient services instead of simply pocketing the money that he would be eager to prove his point.
Dr. Marcus also claimed that the damage caps improved Texans access to physicians. For example, he claimed that the law helped increase Texas rank in growth of physicians caring for the general population from 23rd to 10th. Of course what he failed to address is the fact that Texas is one of the largest states in the Union. As it grows in population, the number of doctors will naturally grow. At some point, the total number of doctors in the state will be quite high based simply on the growth in the population. In fact, according to Public Citizen, while the overall number of doctors has increased, the growth in the number of doctors has actually slowed. Their statistics reveal that in the seven years before the cap on damages, the number of doctors per capita increased by 9.3 percent while in the seven years since the cap on damages the number of doctors per capita increased by only 4.2 percent.