I’m sure that everyone who was listening noticed the section in Barack Obama’s address to Congress tonight where he talked about trying out some more caps on medical malpractice suits. He mentioned the recent tort reforms in Texas as a potentially viable example of successful reform that could be tried in other states in an attempt to save on health care costs.
I’d like to repeat something I mentioned here two days ago: despite the stringent medical malpractice law Texas passed several years ago to cap awards for pain and suffering at $250,000, bringing the number of malpractice suits as well as the threat of malpractice down dramatically, Texas is now home to one of the most expensive health care systems in the country. Three of the top ten most expensive cities to receive health care in are Texas cities.
Propaganda issued in 2003 by tort reformers in Texas to limit malpractice suits claimed that Texas had a dangerous shortage of doctors due to skyrocketing malpractice premiums caused by the threat of lawsuits, and that tort reform would bring more doctors to Texas. At the time, the truth was that only the poorer, more rural counties in Texas lacked adequate doctors; since tort reform, this is still the case. While Texas has attracted more doctors, it has only been to wealthy counties with well-equipped, well-paying hospitals; the situation in rural counties remains unchanged.
[In 2003, a] flier printed by the TMA in English and Spanish and posted in waiting rooms across the state told patients that “152 counties in Texas now have no obstetrician. Wide swaths of Texas have no neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon. … The primary culprit for this crisis is an explosion in awards for non-economic (pain and suffering) damages in liability lawsuits.”
As of September 2007, the number of counties without obstetricians is unchanged—152 counties still have none, according to the Observer’s examination of county-by-county data at the state Medical Board.
Nearly half of Texas counties—124, or 49 percent—have no obstetrician, neurosurgeon, or orthopedic surgeon. Those specialists aside, 21 Texas counties have no physician of any kind. That’s one county worse than before Proposition 12 passed, when 20 counties had no doctor. –The Texas Observer
Caps on patient awards will not lower health care costs, and will not attract more good doctors to the areas around the country that really need them. All it will do is deny compensation to people who’ve suffered due to a doctor’s negligence. Let’s not create more Texases as part of national health reform.