Texas Liability Reforms of 2003 Paying Off, Study Says

Sick and injured Texans now have more physicians who are more willing and able to give them the medical care they need, closer to home thanks to the state’s 2003 health care liability reforms, according to the results of a new survey the Texas Medical Association (TMA) released this week.

“This week marks the third anniversary of the liability reforms and Proposition 12,” said TMA President Ladon W. Homer, MD, a pathologist from Fort Worth. “This is our ‘anniversary present’ to the people of Texas: The reforms have worked. They’ve lived up to their promise.”

The online survey of 1,154 physician members of TMA found that since September 2003:

Doctors find it much easier to recruit new physicians to their communities, even among high-risk specialties and in the “lawsuit war zones” of south and east Texas.

Texas physicians are much more likely to accept patients with complex or high-risk problems, and many feel comfortable offering their patients new services.

“From the Uvalde family physician who is still delivering babies to the Tyler ophthalmologist providing charity care to the huge Houston clinic that has invested millions in a state-of-the-art electronic medical record system, Texas physicians rushed to tell us how the liability reforms have helped them help their patients,” Dr. Homer said.

“As it should be, Texas physicians’ No. 1 challenge is how to cure the patient, not how to avoid a frivolous lawsuit,” he said.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature responded to the state’s health care liability crisis by enacting new laws intended to reduce the number of meritless lawsuits filed against physicians and hospitals. The lawsuits and jackpot-sized judgments had led physicians’ professional liability insurance premiums to skyrocket. As a result, many doctors reported they were drastically reducing their services, especially for the most severely sick or injured Texans, or were planning early retirement.

The centerpiece of the reforms was a $750,000 cap ($250,000 for physicians, $250,000 for the first hospital or health care facility, and $250,000 for any additional facilities) on judgments for noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, in health care liability cases. There is no cap on actual damages such as medical bills or lost income. The new law took effect Sept. 1, 2003. On Sept. 13, 2003, Texas voters approved Proposition 12 in a statewide constitutional election, ratifying the legislature’s authority to adopt the caps.

“The 2003 liability reforms were good medicine, the right medicine, for Texas,” Dr. Homer said. “Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Legislature, and the voters reined in the epidemic of health care lawsuit abuse. We now have a much healthier and robust system that is much better able to give Texans the medical care they need.”

The Texas Medical Board is anticipating a record 4,500 applications for new physician licenses this year. That is more than 40 percent greater than in 2005, which had been the board’s busiest year on record. Texas Medical Board Executive Director Donald Patrick, MD, JD, said the success of Texas’ liability reforms is the “only one viable hypothesis” to explain the huge increase.

The TMA survey bolsters that analysis. Of the 117 survey respondents who were not practicing in Texas in September 2003, 90 percent say the Texas professional liability climate was “very important” or “somewhat important” in their decision to begin practicing in Texas. And 83 percent say the current liability climate for physicians in Texas is “much better” or “better” than the state from which they came.

The Texas Alliance for Patient Access has documented many of the healthy benefits of the 2003 reforms. For more details on the liability crisis and the impact of the reforms, see the Professional Liability Insurance Reform page on the TMA Web site at www.texmed.org.

TMA identifies itself as the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 41,000 physician and medical student members.

Source: Texas Medical Association