In 2003, Texas amended its state constitution. The change set limits on medical malpractice lawsuit payouts. At the time, proponents of this tort reform argued that these limits would reduce the cost of health care in Texas. The damage caps were meant to decrease the number of “frivolous lawsuits” filed by medical malpractice lawyers, leading to a reduction in malpractice insurance costs that would allow doctors to reduce patient costs.
The Statesman reports researchers lead by Charles Silver, law professor at the University of Texas, examined Medicare spending in Texas between 2002 and 2009 and saw no reduction in doctors’ charges. A previous report by the consumer group Public Citizen found that the reverse was true and Medicare spending in Texas actually increased 1-2 percent faster than the national average.
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Critics of the studies have argued that no one ever promised tort reform would reduce healthcare costs, simply that it would reduce the cost of malpractice insurance and bring new doctors to Texas. The same critics have stated that medical malpractice insurance premiums have gone down and new doctors have started practicing in the state. Silver’s group, made up of two Republicans, a Democrat, and a foreign national, have conducted another investigation that refutes that claim, indicating there was not a large number of doctors leaving Texas due to the medical malpractice insurance costs and there was not a great number of doctors coming to Texas after tort reform laws were in place.
Damage cap supporters have also argued that tort reform would reduce the doctors’ perceived need to practice defensive medicine in order to protect themselves. This would decrease the number of unnecessary tests and procedures being done, which would also reduce health care costs. Silver’s group published yet another highly regarded study that found no reduction in the number of procedures done after the tort reform amendment was enacted. In reality, doctors perform more procedures.
Tort reform has had a negative effect on the victims of medical malpractice as well. Many cannot find a medical malpractice attorney willing to take their case because the damage cap of $750,000 makes litigation cost prohibitive. Those who have suffered serious harm and have legitimate cases are unable to find any recourse, making them victims again.