Ten years ago, Texas was known as a “judicial hell hole,” thanks to a torts system that was out of control — and the people who paid the price were the ordinary men, women, and children of the Lone Star State.
Preserve Texas’ landmark liability reforms
In 2003, the Texas Legislature passed sweeping liability reforms to combat health care lawsuit abuse, reverse skyrocketing professional liability insurance premiums, and ensure Texans’ access to high-quality medical care. The centerpiece of those reforms was a $750,000 stacked cap on noneconomic damages assessed against physicians and health care facilities (hospital system, nursing home, and such) in a liability judgment. There is no cap on economic damages. Texas voters then approved Proposition 12, a constitutional amendment that ratified the legislature’s authority to impose these important reforms.
The reforms have worked. They’ve lived up to their promise. Sick and injured Texans have more physicians to deliver the care they need, particularly in high-risk specialties like emergency medicine, obstetrics, neurosurgery, and pediatric intensive care. Physicians also have benefited from much lower liability insurance rates and fewer non-meritorious lawsuit filings.
Because of liability reform, good physicians are flocking from other states to Texas. Since passing the medical liability reforms in 2003, more than 28,000 new physicians have received licenses to practice in the state.
Using the most conservative figure available, Texas has added enough direct patient care physicians since 2003 to provide 10.5 million more patient visits in 2011 than likely would have occurred without liability reform.
The number of obstetricians in rural Texas has grown 31 percent since the passage of Proposition 12, nearly three times faster than the state’s rural population growth. Nine rural counties that had no obstetrician in 2003 now have one. Compared with pre-reform, 16 counties that had no cardiologists now have one, 11 now have a general surgeon, and four now have a neurosurgeon.
The special emergency care provisions of the law have saved lives by helping guarantee Texas patients have access to critical and timely care in the emergency department. Forty counties that had no emergency medicine physician in 2003 now do. Thirty-two of the 40 counties are rural.
While Texas leads the nation in medical liability reform legislation, some would like to see the law weakened and/or destroyed. Ever since 2003, adversaries have tried to discredit the reforms with aggressive media outreach and misleading research. Each session, bills are introduced that would lift the caps on noneconomic damages and protections for emergency services.
The 2011 session also saw an effort to dramatically change the Texas Advance Directives Act (TADA). That 1997 law protects patients from discomfort, pain, and suffering due to excessive medical intervention in the dying process. In 2011, opponents proposed bills that would have set a dangerous precedent for the legislature to mandate physician services and treatments that could be medically inappropriate, outside the standard of care, or unethical. Because medicine is both an art and a science and no one person can dictate the final stages of disease, physicians need safe harbors for treating our sickest patients, especially in their final days.