Category Archives: Texas

Offer ER Doctors Needed Relief

Legislation would provide emergency physicians with helpful, and fair, tort reform Emergency room doctors shouldn’t have to fear lawsuits when simply doing their jobs. A bill in the Michigan House would bring some reasonable control to medical malpractice lawsuits brought against physicians in emergency situations. The liability limits in the legislation would improve patient care and help retain and even attract doctors to Michigan. Currently, the state is losing physicians, according to experts. Antonio Bonfiglio, M.D., with offices in Warren and Fraser, says the bill relieves some of the liability physicians may face in medical emergencies. “The bill doesn’t apply to elective surgeries or gross negligence,” explains the past president of the Michigan College of Emergency Physicians. “This isn’t a get out of jail free card (absolving doctors of all liability). This applies when patients are in emergency situations and when additional physician care is needed.” The threat of a lawsuit often hangs over physicians. But liability concerns in emergency situations have some doctors, particularly specialists, hesitant to even be on call. The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, passed in 1986, requires hospitals treat every person brought into their emergency rooms. But sometimes, as Diane Bollman, executive director…

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Gov. Perry Commemorates 10th Anniversary of Historic Lawsuit Reform

Gov. Rick Perry today was joined by the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and members of the medical community to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the passage of landmark medical liability reform in Texas. “Ten years ago, Texas doctors were faced with an awful choice: stop providing critical services their patients desperately needed, shut down their practice altogether, or leave the state,” Gov. Perry said. “The best thing we can say about tort reform in Texas is also the most basic thing: It’s made people’s lives better. Since Proposition 12 passed 10 years ago, Texas has added more than 30,000 doctors with significant gains in communities that had been traditionally medically underserved. Many of the same lawsuit reforms we passed also freed entrepreneurs and employers across our state to worry less about lawsuit abuse, and invest fewer resources in defending them.” Prior to tort reform in Texas, the medical community faced a frustrating and inefficient legal system. Rising costs made it difficult for physicians and hospitals to attain the insurance coverage necessary to practice. Burdened with skyrocketing insurance rates, good doctors were forced to cut back on high-risk and life-saving care or limit their practices. In the years…

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Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us

1. Routine Care, Unforgettable Bills When Sean Recchi, a 42-year-old from Lancaster, Ohio, was told last March that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his wife Stephanie knew she had to get him to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Stephanie’s father had been treated there 10 years earlier, and she and her family credited the doctors and nurses at MD Anderson with extending his life by at least eight years. Because Stephanie and her husband had recently started their own small technology business, they were unable to buy comprehensive health insurance. For $469 a month, or about 20% of their income, they had been able to get only a policy that covered just $2,000 per day of any hospital costs. “We don’t take that kind of discount insurance,” said the woman at MD Anderson when Stephanie called to make an appointment for Sean. Stephanie was then told by a billing clerk that the estimated cost of Sean’s visit — just to be examined for six days so a treatment plan could be devised — would be $48,900, due in advance. Stephanie got her mother to write her a check. “You do anything you can in a situation like that,” she says….

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Liability premium relief good for doctors, unsettling for insurers

Small but persistent declines in medical liability insurance premiums have many insurers concerned about the future of their industry. Yet doctors are benefiting from lower rates and rising competition among insurers vying for their business. Nearly 60% of premiums nationwide held steady in 2012, and about 26% decreased, according to the Medical Liability Monitor Annual Rate Survey. Only 15% of premiums increased. Overall, rates fell 1.7% in 2012. In the previous two years, they dipped 0.5% and 0.2%, respectively, the October report said. The result is a continuing “softening” of the medical liability insurance market in the last several years, characterized by declining rates and low returns on investment for insurers. Medical Liability Monitor Editor Mike Matray was surprised to see the decline continue. MLM’s 2011 report noted that the market has been soft twice as long as previous soft markets. “No one really knows how much longer this trend will continue,” he said. For now, insurers are seeing strong financial performance despite the downward trend, but that can’t continue, Matray said. If rates keep falling as they have the last five years, the industry’s financial results eventually will become insupportable. “In the near term, this is certainly a good…

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GUEST: Medical liability an issue

In 2003, doctors in both Texas and New York faced a crisis. Excessive, costly and often baseless litigation was forcing physicians to limit their practices or shut their doors altogether. Hospitals were spending increasing amounts for lawsuits rather than investing in patient care. Leaders in Texas, encouraged by physicians across the state, took action to curb lawsuit abuse. In New York, on the other hand, efforts to pass lawsuit reforms stalled. Nine years later, the climate for practicing medicine in the two states couldn’t be more different. Texas is where physicians want to practice; our hospitals are able to invest liability savings into patient care, safety programs and charity care. In New York, meanwhile, doctors are retiring early and declining to take high-risk patients while hospitals are forced to choose between adding more care providers and paying their medical liability premiums. The success of reforms in Texas cannot be denied. Of the more than 27,000 physicians licensed to practice in Texas since 2003, nearly 2,000 did their training or had an active practice in New York. Like me, many came here because of the reformed legal climate. This is great news for Texans: more doctors means greater access to care…

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Appeals court upholds often-cited medical liability damages cap

In a victory for doctors, a Texas appeals court has upheld as constitutional the state’s $250,000 noneconomic damages cap in medical liability cases. The decision is the first time an appellate court has validated the limit under the state’s constitution. A federal court in March upheld the cap under the U.S. Constitution. The ruling strengthens Texas’ 2003 tort reform package and protects doctors from high insurance premiums, said Rocky Wilcox, vice president and general counsel for the Texas Medical Assn. The TMA was not involved in the case. “It’s good that the courts are following what the law says,” he said. “Physicians are under stress already because of the limits on how much they can receive [from] Medicare and Medicaid and other state programs. Because of the cap, most are still able to practice, and we don’t have these escalating” premium rates. The case involves a negligence lawsuit brought by David Fritzgerald against several physicians and Infectious Disease Doctors, P.A., a medical group serving the Dallas area. Fritzgerald underwent ulcer surgery in 2003 at then-RHD Memorial Medical Center in Dallas. He experienced complications after the surgery and was treated for an intra-abdominal infection by Meenakshi S. Prabhakar, MD, an infectious…

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Patients Benefit from Texas Tort Reform

SAN DIEGO – Since the state of Texas implemented medical tort reform in 2003, the number of practicing physicians has increased by 19% per 100,000 population. In addition, hospitals in the state report improved ability to recruit physicians and expand patient services. Those are key findings from an innovative study presented by Dr. Ronald M. Stewart at the annual Digestive Disease Week. "Tort reform has been beneficial for all or almost all Texas physicians," Dr. Stewart said in an interview in advance of the meeting. "I have benefited from lower malpractice premiums and a more favorable liability climate in the state. However, the effect of tort reform in a region is probably not the primary driver for physician recruitment and retention. I believe it is permissive – providing the framework for growing physicians relative to the number of patients being served," he explained. The data show that, in the decade from 2002 to 2012, the Texas population went from 21,779,893 to 26,403,743 – a 21% increase – and the number of Texas physicians rose by 15,611 – a 44% increase (46% in metro areas vs. 9% in nonmetro areas). This absolute change led to an increase of 30 physicians per…

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Malpractice Suits Cause Psychological Distress and Career Burnout Among U.S. Surgeons

Journal of the American College of Surgeons Study Reveals Malpractice Litigation Drives Profound Personal Implications, Including Depression and Low Career Satisfaction CHICAGO (November 14, 2011) – According to the results of a new study published in the November 2011 Journal of the American College of Surgeons, malpractice lawsuits against U.S. surgeons occur often and can take a profound personal toll on the surgeon, resulting in emotional exhaustion, stress, and professional dissatisfaction. The researchers examined personal and professional characteristics and found malpractice lawsuits were strongly and independently linked to surgeon depression and career burnout. The stress caused by malpractice litigation was rated as equivalent to that of financial worries, pressure to succeed in research, work/home conflicts, and coping with patients' suffering and death. Finally, surgeons who experienced a recent malpractice lawsuit reported less career satisfaction and were less likely to recommend a surgical or medical career to their children or others. The surgical specialties reporting the highest rates of malpractice lawsuits in the last 24 months were neurosurgery (31 percent), cardiothoracic surgery (29 percent), general surgery (28 percent), colorectal surgery (28 percent), and obstetric and gynecologic surgery (28 percent). The lowest rate specialties reporting malpractice lawsuits were otolaryngology (12 percent), ophthalmology (12 percent)…

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LIABILITY CAPS SPECIAL REPORT

Since Texas enacted comprehensive medical liability reform in 2003, including a constitutional amendment ratifying limitations on non-economic damages in medical liability lawsuits against health care providers, Texas has seen significant improvements in access to critical health care services across the state. Opponents of these reforms, most recently Public Citizen, claim that liability reforms have not produced the promised results. This claim is simply false and rests on a deliberate misrepresentation of the purpose of the 2003 legislation. This report seeks to set the record straight on the success of the Texas medical liability reforms in achieving the Legislature’s intent. I. Prior to the 2003 reforms, the excessive cost of medical liability insurance and the high risk of medical liability claims against physicians and providers created a severe crisis in the availability of critical health care services across the state. The best evidence for the effectiveness of medical liability reform is to compare the legislative objectives of Texas medical liability reform to the documented results since its enactment in 2003. In 2002, Governor Rick Perry articulated these objectives: "Every Texan deserves access to medical care. Today, in many parts of the state, access to quality care is increasingly threatened by a…

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Better Care in Texas Thanks to Tort Reform

Thanks to the passage of lawsuit reforms, medical care is now more readily available in many Texas communities. For many patients, this change has been life-altering; for some, life-saving. George Rodriguez walks today thanks to tort reform. Newly established Corpus Christi neurosurgeon Matthew Alexander urgently operated on Rodriguez’ spinal abscess, relieving the pressure on his spinal cord, and sparing him life in a wheel chair. Without the state’s lawsuit reforms, Dr. Alexander wouldn’t have relocated to Texas and Mr. Rodriguez would have been deprived access to emergency neurosurgery in Corpus Christi.   Cancer survivor Ruby Collins credits newly minted Brownwood urologist Daniel Alstatt with saving her life. Dr. Alstatt says he wouldn’t have moved there, were it not for tort reform.   Andrya Burciaga of McAllen, a complex patient with diabetes and hypertension, is a first-time mother, thanks in part to the expertise of obstetrician/fertility specialist Dr. Javier Cardenas. Again, if not for the passage of the reforms, Dr. Cardenas says he absolutely would not have returned to his hometown to practice medicine nor taken problem pregnancies such as Ms. Burciaga’s.   Because of reforms, more patients across Texas are getting the care they need, when they need it.  …

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