Texas Watch Report On Tort Reform

Posted in Health Care, Around The State at 11:18 am by wcnews

This AusChron article, Tort-Reform Folly, points us to a report by Texas Watch about how the tort “reforms” enacted in 2003 are working so far. The article tells us that despite what our governor is telling us not much has changed, in a good way, since tort reform was passed in 2003.

Back in 2003, 71-year-old Alvin Berry of Copperas Cove went to the doctor for a routine prostate screening. He was told his antigen levels were elevated, so his doctor referred him to a urologist for a follow-up. The urologist, however, told Berry not to worry. Seven months later, Berry’s antigen levels had skyrocketed – he had developed prostate cancer, and it was too late, the cancer had already spread to his bones. He was given five years to live. Unfortunately, reports the consumer-advocacy group Texas Watch, in 2003 Berry had also voted in favor of Proposition 12 – the sweeping “tort reform” package that severely limited the ability of individuals to avail themselves of the legal process and to sue in cases of medical negligence (what tort reformers – read, insurance companies – prefer to call “frivolous lawsuits”) – and with its passage, discovered that now he was left without the ability to seek legal redress for his doctor’s deadly oversight. “We’d voted on something,” Berry told Texas Monthly in 2005, “and we really didn’t know what the facts were.”

To hear Gov. Rick Perry tell it in his State of the State speech last week, the facts are that things in the land of tort reform are just peachy, thank you very much. Texas is “perched at the forefront of a new era of prosperity,” he said. “Frivolous lawsuits are down, as are insurance rates for homeowners and doctors. Thanks to medical liability reforms, hospitals are once again able to recruit specialists whose expertise can mean the difference between life and death.” Apparently, Perry wasn’t talking to Alvin Berry.

The saddest part of this report are the stories like Mr. Berry’s, you can read more personal stories here. But, as always, when we’re sold something that’s too good to be true, this was as well. One of the main selling points used in the run-up to the vote on this was the issue of Texas having a lack of specialists, obstetricians in particular. This “talking point” was used to guilt voters into voting for this. In effect making one feel that if they voted against this they were voting against the health of unborn children and their mothers. Well come to find out this problem has only gotten worse since 2003. Here are the main findings of the report:

  • Underserved areas remain underserved. Rural, remote, and indigent regions of Texas have seen a decrease in the rate of new doctors since Prop 12 passed.
  • More counties do not have an obstetrician. Today more counties in Texas do not have an obstetrician than before Proposition 12 passed.
  • Medical liability insurance premiums remain inflated. Despite marginal reductions, doctors are still paying dramatically higher premiums than they were just a few years before Proposition 12 passed.
  • Texas has the highest rate of citizens without health insurance. 25% of Texans do not have health insurance, the highest rate of uninsured among the 20 largest states.

It seems the only one’s who’ve benefited from the 2003 tort reform is the insurance companies. Imagine that. Texas Watch sums up what went wrong and what needs to be done:

The report illustrates how Texas misdiagnosed the health care dilemma. Instead of punishing patients and rewarding the few bad doctors who are responsible for most of the medical malpractice payments, lawmakers should pass real legal reforms that beef up patient safety standards, kick bad doctors out of the medical community, and enact comprehensive insurance reform that cracks down on insurance overcharges.

And to get insurance reform that means Republicans can’t be in charge anymore.

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