Protect Patients Now

Volume 7, Issue 9 September 2012 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

A Toast to Texas’ Reforms
Alternative Liability “Reforms” Under Consideration

A Toast to Texas’ Reforms

There is no shortage of good news stemming from the landmark medical liability reforms in Texas, and as we approach the nine-year anniversary of the bill’s passage, Protect Patients Now wanted to highlight the advances that have led to an increase in physicians and a decrease in health care costs.

Landmark Liability Reforms Upheld
This month, a Texas appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the reforms, following an affirmation in March by a federal court of appeals.

As reported in American Medical News, 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 Association.

“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.

Passage of the reforms have continued to compensate deserving patients fully for lost wages and medical expenses, while keeping health care costs in check for patients throughout the state. To read more about the appeals court verdict, click here.

Record Number of New Physicians Licensed
In addition to a reduction in meritless lawsuits and lower costs throughout the state’s health care system, the fiscal year ending last month was proof that access to care for Texans has never been greater.

The Texas Medical Board licensed a record 3,630 new physicians last fiscal year – 70 percent more than the board issued in 2001 and 2002, the low water marks during the state’s medical liability crisis.

What’s even more telling is the number of physicians who come to Texas after graduating from medical schools in other states – totaling 73 percent of the new physicians licensed in Texas.

Now, the number of high-risk specialty physicians has grown 18 percent faster than the population of Texas itself.

Gone are the days that Texans had to travel far and wide for access to immediate and life-saving care, found Professor Stephen Magee of the University of Texas. Professor Magee arranged all Texas counties from the most medically underserved to the most served, and found that following the 2003 reforms, direct patient care physician growth improved in six of the eight underserved county groupings – approximately 150 counties in total.

A Tale of Two States: One Physicians’ Story
While the facts and figures are telling, an op-ed in this month’s Odessa American by Dr. Jackelinne Villalobos is a personal story of one physician who was forced out of practicing obstetrics in New York due to out-of-control medical liability costs.

When Dr. Villalobos’ insurance premiums hit $168,000 per year in 2009, she first had to stop treating all high-risk patients from her Brooklyn obstetrics practice. When that did nothing to curb costs, and she could no longer afford to practice in New York, she made the tough decision to leave the state – and headed to Texas.

“As long as New York suffers from out-of-control litigation and skyrocketing liability costs, doctors will be wary of practicing there and patients will suffer,” Dr. Villalobos writes.

“The Texas reform story is a model for the nation. As we reach the ninth anniversary of the passage of medical lawsuit reforms, it’s important to remember how far we have come, and make sure we protect the reforms that have improved access to care for so many Texans.”

Click here to read more about Dr. Villalobos’ story , and how lower costs and greater access to critical care have made a difference in the lives of Texas patients.

Alternative Liability “Reforms” Under Consideration

While the Texas model, based on comprehensive liability reforms and reasonable limits on noneconomic damages, has been a success, some states whose damage limits have been declared unconstitutional are considering new, and untested, ways to address their medical liability woes.

In Georgia, where a limit on noneconomic damages was ruled unconstitutional two years ago, some are now calling for the establishment of a no-fault patient compensation system based on state workers’ compensation plans.

The proposal would require doctors and hospitals to compensate victims without going to court, and supporters believe the law would not only would reduce meritless lawsuits, but also quickly compensate deserving patients.

“We think we can increase the number of victims that are compensated and get them the money faster,” said Kelly McCutcheon, the president of the market-oriented think tank Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Others, however, express strong doubt such a plan could pass constitutional scrutiny, and they also raise serious concerns about whether the proposal could actually produce the financial savings claimed by supporters. You can read more about the Georgia plan for an alternative patient compensation system here.

On the West Coast, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s Patient Safety and Defensive Medicine Workgroup is preparing to present their findings on creating a “safe harbor” policy, to allow communication between patients and physicians regarding adverse medical events without the threat of a lawsuit. Damage caps in that state were found unconstitutional in 1999.

Earlier disclosure of injuries would be required, followed by an apology from the doctor or hospital and an offer of compensation within 90 days. If an agreement cannot be reached, patients will still be allowed to exercise their legal options.

Members of the workgroup are confident their proposal will be included in health care legislation during the 2013 legislative session. Click here to read more about what all sides say will be a “meaningful” step forward for patients in Oregon.

Newsletter archive