Medical Malpractice Myths Debunked – Texas, California and Some Michigan Thrown In

side note: In this article, the author questions whether tort reform — and its effect on medical malpractice insurance premiums — will have any impact on the cost of healthcare. Do you think tort reform is the answer? Would love to hear from you.

The Pop Tort

We’ve noticed a definite spike in the amount of medical malpractice-related hooey being slung about since President Obama’s big health speech this past Wednesday, so we thought we’d spend a little time today addressing a couple of the biggest whoppers—specifically, the notion that Texas and California, two states with the most Draconian restrictions on injured patients’ rights, should somehow be held out as health care “success” stories.

Let’s even put aside for a moment the devastating impact these laws have had on injured patients and their families, the forgotten faces of the malpractice issue that few are paying attention to.

With respect to Texas, two debunkable doozies tend to dominate. One is that doctors’ malpractice insurance premiums magically went down after the state’s 2003 patient rights restrictions were adopted—and the other is that doctors, particularly OBGYNs who had supposedly fled the state for fear of lawsuits, have since returned in happy droves.

First of all, in the last few years Texas malpractice rates dropped—but so did rates in every single state in the country! We’re in a soft insurance market. It’s industry wide! That means rates have stabilized irrespective of whether “tort reform” was enacted in a state. Take a look at the Americans for Insurance Reform definitive report on this.

Moreover, after Texas insurers fought to take away patients’ rights in 2003 “reforms,” (after arguing this was the way to reduce rates) they requested rate hikes—as high as 35 percent for doctors and 65 percent for hospitals. And this naked profiteering on the part of insurance companies so enraged Texas lawmakers at the time that they threatened to institute mandatory insurance rate rollbacks if doctors didn’t get substantial cost relief. But even then, there was no significant drop in costs until the insurance market rate cycle shifted. Meanwhile, patient safety in the state is abysmal, and health care costs have gone through the roof.

As for the Texas/OBGYN nonsense, in 2007, the Texas Observer found:

“The campaign’s promise, that tort reform would cause doctors to begin returning to the state’s sparsely populated regions, has now been tested for four years. It has not proven to be true….

Those doctors are following the Willie Sutton model: They’re going, understandably,where the better-paying jobs and career opportunities are, to the wealthy suburbs of Dallas and Houston, to growing places with larger, better-equipped hospitals and burgeoning medical communities…

So while Texas patients lost significant legal rights and many unsafe health care providers are now unaccountable, rural communities that were exploited during the “tort reform” campaign have seen no improvement in access to physicians.

As for the California “rate drop” myth…Thirteen years after the state’s severe $250,000 cap on damages was enacted (MICRA, passed in 1975), “doctors’ premiums had increased by 450 percent and reached an all-time high in California.” It wasn’t until 1988, when California voters passed a stringent insurance regulatory law, Proposition 103, that California’s malpractice premiums started to stabilize. Meanwhile, as with Texas, patient safety in California remains atrocious.

Read the rest here