Category Archives: Texas

Judiciary panel preps jobs agenda

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is preparing a fall work program for his committee that is aimed almost exclusively at boosting and protecting U.S. jobs. The agenda includes bills that would reduce regulatory burdens to job growth, require employers to verify the legality of potential employees and fight intellectual property theft around the world. In a Thursday interview with The Hill, Smith stressed the importance of focusing on jobs at a time of continued high unemployment and economic uncertainty, and said other issues would likely take a backseat to what he called the “Judicial Jobs Agenda.” “If it’s not part of the jobs agenda, it’s not likely to come up for consideration this fall,” Smith said. That means other bills the committee has considered, including controversial legislation ending birthright citizenship for children born to undocumented parents and a bill aimed at preventing mass amnesty for illegal residents, are not likely to surface this year. Smith said he is optimistic that Congress will be able to find some way to work together on the daunting issues of the debt and the economy, in large part because of the growing dissatisfaction with the federal government’s performance. “I do think we’ll…

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Insurer: Texas malpractice rates decreasing since liability reforms

Due to medical liability reforms in the state, Texas physicians will pay less for liability coverage next year, according to the state’s largest provider of malpractice insurance. In a statement released today, the board of governors of the Texas Medical Liability Trust announced policyholders would receive an average rate decrease of almost 7 percent. In addition, renewing policyholders will receive an 18.5 percent dividend. The combined rate reduction and dividend will save TMLT policyholders nearly $35.8 million in 2012 premium, according to the statement. 
”Physicians work within an environment of decreasing reimbursements and increasing operating costs. We are hopeful that these reductions and dividends will help physicians as they help patients,” said TMLT President and Chief Executive Officer Charles R. (Chip) Ott Jr. TMLT states it has reduced rates for Texas physicians for nine consecutive years, “since the passage of medical liability reform by the Texas legislature and Gov. Rick Perry in 2003.” “Since the passage of medical liability reform, TMLT insured physicians will have saved $745.5 million in decreased premiums, once this latest round of rate cuts and dividends is implemented,” the group announced. In 2011, TMLT policyholders saw their premiums reduced by 54 percent from 2003 rates, according…

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Surgical liability cases drop nearly 80% at Texas medical center

Texas trauma surgeon Basil Pruitt Jr., MD, was confident the state’s tort reform measures had reduced lawsuits at the medical center where he practices. But he and fellow physicians were shocked when they learned by how much. A study published in the April issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found a nearly 80% decrease in surgical liability lawsuits at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio since tort reform was enacted in 2003. That year, the Texas Legislature passed a comprehensive package of tort reforms that included a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in most medical negligence cases. The lack of lawsuits led to a dramatic drop in legal costs at the center, the study showed. “It confirmed our hypothesis that [tort reform] was important, but the magnitude of the decrease was quite striking,” said Dr. Pruitt, one of the study’s co-authors. Researchers studied pre-tort reform surgery data at the medical center from 1992 to 2004 and analyzed surgeries performed post-reform. Of the 98,513 surgeries studied, 28 lawsuits were filed against residents or surgery faculty, the study showed. Twenty-five of the suits were filed before tort reform, and three were filed after reforms….

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New Directions in Medical Liability Reform

Medical liability reform has maintained a tenacious hold on the national policy agenda. During the first several years of the 21st century, a malpractice insurance “crisis” prompted vociferous demands by organized medicine and liability insurers for tort reforms to curb litigation costs.1 Many observers anticipated that once the insurance market calmed, so too would calls for reform. Instead, a new force for change emerged — health care reform. Leading up to the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March 2010, federal liability reforms were contemplated as a means of garnering support for the legislation among congressional Republicans and medical professional organizations. Although no liability-reform provisions survived in the final bill, Congress made clear the need for more experimentation. The final legislation authorized $50 million for states and health care systems to test new approaches to the resolution of medical-injury disputes. This authorization supplemented the $23 million that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) awarded in 2010 for projects to advance new approaches to medical-injury compensation and patient safety. As policymakers’ attention has shifted from winning passage of the health reform bill to determining how to implement and pay for it, medical liability reform has…

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Texas expands medical liability protections for state-employed doctors

Texas doctors employed by the state have gained an extra layer of protection against medical liability lawsuits after a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Texas. The majority of justices ruled that plaintiffs must sue the government entity where an alleged medical error occurred — not the physician. In the past, doctors employed at state-run facilities faced the same susceptibility in lawsuits as their private practice counterparts. The Jan. 21 ruling stems from several medical liability cases before the state Supreme Court concerning doctors employed by government entities and their scope of liability immunity. The court chose to examine one case as its lead to condense its review of the similar issues. In Franka and Reddy v. Velasquez, the parents of a newborn sued obstetrician-gynecologist John Franka, MD, and Nagakrishna Reddy, MD, for an injury to the baby’s shoulder during delivery, according to court documents. The parents did not sue University Hospital, where the baby was born. University is a public teaching hospital owned by the Bexar County Hospital District. Dr. Franka was a faculty member at the hospital, and Dr. Ready was a resident at the time of the delivery. Drs. Franka and Reddy said they should not…

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GOP introduces medical liability bill to complement healthcare efforts

Key House Republicans last night introduced the HEALTH Act, which aims to lower the cost of healthcare through medical liability reform. The bill is designated as H.R. 5, which indicates it is a high priority for House Republicans. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health; House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas); and Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.). In a statement Monday, the three members said medical malpractice reforms have proven effective in reducing healthcare costs, and noted that President Obama has said he wants to find ways to help minimize defensive medical practices, such as over-treatment designed more to avoid possible legal action. Among other things, the bill would limit the number of years a plaintiff has to file a legal claim against medical practitioners and ensure that doctors are only liable for the portion of a procedure for which they are at fault. The latter provision would limit the ability of a plaintiff’s lawyers to seek “deep pockets” in a legal challenge. The bill also ensures that more monetary awards would go to patients, not patients’ lawyers, puts “reasonable limits” on punitive damages and allows states…

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Medical liability premiums steady, but big extremes remain

An annual survey shows caps in some states helped keep rates down, but a higher percentage of premiums rose in 2010 than in 2009. Physicians paid about the same for medical liability insurance premiums in 2010 as in 2009, with 67% of rates remaining stable across the nation, according to the annual Medical Liability Monitor survey. An American Medical Association policy research report issued in December 2010 said the 67% figure was the largest percentage of stagnant premiums in recent years. Although most rates remained stable, 14.1% of premiums rose in 2010 compared with 6% in 2009. "While the overall picture is positive compared to a few years ago, there was a slight uptick in premium increases in 2010 — the first in seven years," said AMA President Cecil B. Wilson, MD. "The medical liability insurance market bears close monitoring for further signals that changes in the legal environment, including reversals of state tort reforms, could be placing pressure on insurers to raise premiums." Tort reforms — or a lack of them — have created a disparate playing field among states, leading to premium relief or nightmares, depending on where doctors practice. Texas internists, for example, paid about $15,000 in…

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Loser Pays, Everyone Wins

Texas pushes the British rule on tort reform. Republicans picked up 16 governorships and at least 675 state legislative seats in November, and some of them are using this new running room to get creative. One Governor out of the gate early is Texan Rick Perry, who wants to extend his state’s impressive tort reform record. Most notably, Mr. Perry is proposing a British-style “loser pays” rule, which would require plaintiffs to pick up the legal costs of their targets if they lose their suits. Almost all of America’s economic competitors follow a similar standard, but trial lawyers and their Democratic codependents have blocked states from making this revolutionary improvement to U.S. civil justice. Americans now spend more on tort litigation than they do on new cars. The courts are choked with such high crimes as the $54 million pair of pants that a D.C. dry cleaner allegedly ruined in 2007. A procedural reform like loser pays to deter junk lawsuits would make the legal system less of a drag on the economy and less of a political tool for redistributing wealth. Mr. Perry’s proposal isn’t the pure version of loser pays, in which the losing party—plaintiff or defendant—is responsible…

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