Medical Malpractice Reform: Truth in Advertising Needed

Guest post by Michael Halasy, Practicing Emergency Medicine PA, Health Policy Analyst, and Health Services Researcher

Medical Malpractice Reform: Truth in Advertising Needed (Part One of Three)

Medical malpractice liability reform (Tort Reform) has been a hotly contested item for years, as the GOP, with physician support, has continued to market this as a health reform measure that can contain costs.

I think to start, we need to examine results in states where tort reform has already been tried. We need look no further than Texas.

Politicians tried to claim that Texas was a success, Rep Bachmann stated ““The state of Texas did a wonderful job of lawsuit reform and actually saw medical costs come down. We know it works.” Others have touted the Texas experiment as a success..but empiric data is a powerful thing, and as we will see, contradicts this sentiment.

In 2003, they passed the most aggressive tort reform measures in the country by placing a 250,000 cap on malpractice awards. It is true that this reform, after 2003, lowered malpractice premiums. But malpractice settlements and awards have dropped even farther than premiums, suggesting that the main benefactors so far, have been insurance companies. (See Table 1).

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Also, the same report found that Medicare spending per patient had doubled between 2003 and 2007, in contrast to the decline in Medicare spending that was noted prior to the laws enactment. (See Table 2)

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Additionally, one of the strongest arguments that tort reform supporters claim is a reduction in “defensive” medicine expenditures, or unnecessary testing… unfortunately, between 2003 and 2007 testing expenditures per Medicare enrollee grew at 50% greater than the national average…

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They also found that Texas has the highest rate of uninsured patients in the country, both prior to the law, and accelerating after the law was passed.

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The additional physician presence has only increased because of an increasing population as well, and when it was analyzed, there was only an increase of 0.4 (correction…0.4%) physicians per capita after the law was passed.

These tables and data were all obtained and detailed in this study HERE, and there is much more information at the link. (enclosed link: http://www.citizen.org/documents/Texas_Liability_Limits.pdf).

The short version is that medical malpractice reform should be a topic for discussion, but we need to be honest about this. In this article we reviewed what actually happened in Texas after the most aggressive tort reform measures were created. Costs (outside of settlements, payments, and premiums did NOT go down), and healthcare spending was at best unaffected, and may have even increased.

The next article will focus on the effects of reducing defensive medicine practices on patient mortality. The final article will focus on the association between medical malpractice premiums and healthcare spending.

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