Category Archives: Texas

July 2016 Newsletter

New Mexico Legislators Find Solutions to Out-of-State Liability Concerns Patients in New Mexico who seek treatment from neighboring states now have more assurance that care will available to them without physicians feeling threatened by out-of-state liability laws. The change in the law was necessitated following a case where a New Mexico patient who, after receiving treatment in Texas from a Texas physician, brought forward litigation under New Mexico tort laws, which do not include similar tort liability protections as Texas laws. Without addressing the issue, patients faced limits in seeking care from out-of-state physicians. “There were large practices [in Texas] where 60 percent of their patients are from New Mexico, and they were going to stop seeing those patients,” said Randy Marshall, executive director of the New Mexico Medical Society. “Some practices were already turning away patients.” The bill, which took effect earlier this month and sunsets in three years, allows doctors in other states to request patients to sign a form stating that they would file any lawsuits in the state where the treatment was provided. The document would be admissible in court in both the home state of the patient and the state where any lawsuit is filed….

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New law will limit lawsuits on Texas doctors

A medical malpractice lawsuit filed by a New Mexico patient against a Texas doctor could have disrupted care for patients throughout the state, said state Rep. Terry McMillan, R-Las Cruces. Legislation sponsored by McMillan that takes effect Friday will temporarily resolve the issue while the New Mexico Supreme Court considers the case, he said. In 2004, New Mexico resident Kimberly Montano traveled to Lubbock, Texas, to have bariatric surgery at Texas Tech University performed by Dr. Eldo Frezza. She later sued Frezza, who would have had immunity under Texas law because he is employed by the state. But Montano sued in New Mexico courts, arguing that even though the surgery and follow-up treatments were performed in Texas, her subsequent injuries manifested in New Mexico. When the New Mexico Appeals Court agreed with her, doctors throughout Texas threatened to stop seeing New Mexico patients, McMillan said. “Nobody’s malpractice insurance is going to cover another state,” said McMillan, who is the only medical doctor in the Legislature. “They were not going to see New Mexico patients anymore unless we did something.” Randy Marshall, executive director of the New Mexico Medical Society, said some Texas providers had already made the decision to stop seeing New…

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Study ranks Texas 6th best state for docs, expert points to tort reform

A recent study found Texas is one of the best states for physicians to practice medicine, a high ranking made possible in part due to the passage of tort reform measures in 2003, says one expert. In late March, WalletHubb released its “2016’s Best & Worst States for Doctors,” a list ranking Texas as the sixth best state. When asked if he agreed with the ranking, Jon Opelt, executive director for Texas Alliance for Patient Access, said Texas is widely regarded as one of the most desirable states in which to practice medicine. “Texas’ medical liability laws are considered the gold-standard by which all state liability laws are measured,” Opelt said. “Our landmark reforms have been a huge boon to keeping and attracting physicians to care for more Texas patients.” Before the passage of reforms, more than two-thirds of the state’s trauma service areas were experiencing a per capita loss in patient care physicians. Soon after the passage of reforms, the trend was reversed, Opelt said. From a physician’s annual wage to malpractice liability insurance rates, the study included several elements in its scoring of states. WalletHubb also considered medical malpractice award payouts in civil lawsuits. Texas’ med-mal cap for…

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Editorial: Subjecting out-of-state M.D.s to NM law risky

A medical malpractice lawsuit filed in Albuquerque by a Curry County woman who had gastric bypass surgery in 2004 at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock has sent a thorny question to the New Mexico Supreme Court. While it would seem reasonable that Kimberly Montaño should have the ability to pursue a medical malpractice claim, a decision in her favor could have a chilling effect on all New Mexicans’ ability to access health care outside the state – and not just the many eastern New Mexico residents who rely on Texas health care providers because of shortages in the area. Kimberly Montaño went to Texas Tech University because that’s where her insurer at the time, Lovelace Insurance Co., told her she had to go if she wanted her surgery covered. She claims to have had life-affecting complications and is suing her surgeon, Dr. Eldo Frezza, who was chief of bariatric surgery at the TTU Health Sciences Center. Montaño has filed her lawsuit in New Mexico seeking to recover losses and punitive damages not allowed under Texas law. Medical malpractice laws differ by state and in Texas, state law bars lawsuits against individual state employees, which Frezza was…

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12-Years Post-Liability Reform, Texas Hits Another Record in New Physicians

As it has for four of the past seven years, the Texas Medical Board licensed a record number of new physicians for the fiscal year that ended last month, surging past the 4,000 mark for the first time in history. The board licensed a record 4,295 new Texas doctors last year, up 301 (7.5 percent) from the previous year’s record of 3,994. The number of license applications received (5,377) also broke the record of 5,150 set in 2014. “Twelve years since the passage of our historic 2003 medical liability reforms, we continue to attract new physicians to Texas in record numbers,” said Austin internist Howard Marcus, M.D, chairman of Texas Alliance For Patient Access. “I don’t at all find that to be a coincidence.” Texas has licensed an average of 3,432 new physicians each year since the passage of lawsuit reforms 12 years ago. “As we promised during the campaign for liability reform, passage of House Bill 4 and Proposition 12 have reversed the epidemic of lawsuit abuse and, in turn, provided sick and injured Texans with better access to lifesaving care,” Dr. Marcus said.

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Historic House Vote Protects Right of State’s to Set Medical Liability Laws, Says Texas Alliance For Patient Access

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed historic medical liability language in a bill that replaces the often-criticized Medicare physician payment formula known as the sustainable growth rate. The measure passed overwhelmingly with strong bi-partisan support. Language in the sustainable growth rate replacement bill ensures that federal quality and payment provisions may not be used in court to sue or to advance or defend a medical malpractice lawsuit. “The passage of today’s legislation will permanently fix the flawed sustainable growth formula and relieve doctors of the fear of undue legal issues,” said Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar. Rep. Cuellar had introduced similar stand-alone legislation. “It is my hope that the Senate swiftly votes and passes this bill,” he said. “This is the first step toward real, meaningful, entitlement reform, said Texas Congressman Michael Burgess, chief author of the bill. “I have worked my entire congressional career to address this problem and, after years of uneven progress, we have finally taken this opportunity to do what is right for seniors, providers and the American taxpayer. “Furthermore, the bill includes important standard of care provisions that protect state liability law and ensures that federal health care standards cannot be used to establish legal…

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Malpractice Insurance Premiums Nudge Down Again

For the seventh straight year, malpractice insurance premiums have decreased for three bellwether specialties, and even for sticker-shocked obstetrician-gynecologists on Long Island in New York, according to an annual premium survey released this week by Medical Liability Monitor (MLM). Rates quoted by a malpractice carrier called Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers for obstetrician/gynecologists in the New York counties of Nassau and Suffolk, east of Queens, went from $227,899 in 2013 to $214,999 in 2014, a decrease of almost 6%. However, this rate continues to be the highest quoted by any carrier in any state for this specialty. Overall, malpractice premiums decreased on average by 1.5% in 2014 for obstetrician/gynecologists, internists, and general surgeons, which is slightly less than the 1.9% decrease in 2013. By specialty, rates fell 1.6% for internists, 1.3% for general surgeons, and 1.7% for obstetrician/gynecologists. Since 2008, overall rates for the three specialties have fallen by 13%, MLM said. To many physicians, this slow decline represents little comfort because it was preceded by an era of rate spikes: Premiums increased more than 20% in both 2003 and 2004, and about 9% in 2005 (rate increases in 2006 and 2007 were less than 1%). “We haven’t come down as far…

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A Case for Malpractice Reform

The medical malpractice process was designed to allow fair and just compensation when a patient is harmed through negligent health care; it is an important part of our health care system. Ideally, it would function smoothly, bringing prompt justice to those who have been wronged. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The system is inefficient, costly and plagued with abuse, often punishing providers who have done no wrong. The consequences are an adversarial environment with reduced and delayed payments (five years is not uncommon), an increase in the cost of medicine, defensive medicine (unnecessary care which is burdensome to scarce resources), and decreased access to health care, especially in fields such as pediatrics, obstetrics, and neurosurgery, where annual malpractice premiums can reach $200,000. In an ideal world, patients should have ready access to compensation when malpractice has been committed, but the current system functions more like a lottery. Thousands of cases are filed, in hopes the practitioner will settle to avoid going to court. Most of these cases never reach the jury, but still cause harm to the system. Of the cases that do reach the court, most are found in favor of the defendant, but vindication comes at great…

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Doctors Spend More Time in the Courtroom Than the Classroom

Medical malpractice suits are time consuming and emotionally draining. The average physician spends more time—about 11 percent of his or her career—embroiled in malpractice litigation than it takes to complete medical school. Most claims consume two years prior to resolution, and nearly twice that much time elapses since the event in question. The defensive medicine practiced by health professionals to avoid lawsuits costs an estimated $60 billion annually, based on a survey of more than 1,200 physicians. That does not include the cost of carrying liability insurance. Many say the cost of defending—and avoiding—medical liability suits is siphoning funds away from needed health-care delivery reforms and infrastructure expenditures. Consultant PwC, relying on that CBO report, estimated that malpractice insurance and defensive medicine accounted for 10 percent of total health-care costs. A 2010 Health Affairs article more conservatively pegged those costs at 2.4 percent of healthcare spending. In a 2010 survey, U.S. orthopedic surgeons bluntly admitted that about 30 percent of tests and referrals were medically unnecessary and done to reduce physician vulnerability to lawsuits. Whether a physician practices defensive medicine may depend more on a doctor’s fear of being sued than the level of pain-and-suffering damage caps and insurance premiums…

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Could Malpractice Reform Save the U.S. Health Care System?

A new essay in the journal Health Affairs proposes that tackling tort reform on the federal level could convince doctors to agree to bigger changes in the U.S. health care system. Photo illustration by DNY59. It’s a scenario most people have considered at least once. Patient A is hoisted onto Dr. B’s operating table. Knife slips and causes massive injury — and unlimited pain and suffering — to Mr. A. Should the resulting monetary compensation be unlimited, as well? Or should monetary damages be capped to help doctors feel more comfortable in high-stakes situations, leading to better patient outcomes and possibly helping to keep America’s ever-rising health care costs in check? The debate’s been raging for decades, and while it’s shown no signs of letting up in recent years, some say the current atmosphere of change in the health care system makes the time ripe for compromise. But the stakes are high. In 2013, an article in the Journal of Patient Safety estimated that between 210,000 to 400,000 people die every year in the U.S. from hospital medical errors. In turn, a 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that roughly 1 in 14 U.S. doctors faces…

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