Study Questions Claims Texas Malpractice Cap Brought in More Doctors

Caps on what a medical malpractice victim can claim remain controversial because they can mean it’s not worth lawyers taking on som cases in states that have a cap, even when a patient has suffered considerable harm.

Texas imposed one of the most severe caps on what a victim of medical malpractice can claim in the country in 2003, following claims lawsuits were leading doctors to quit the profession in the state.

And while supporters of the reform have pointed to an influx of doctors into the state since, a major new study suggests this may not be the case.

 Before Texas adopted tort reform in 2003, proponents claimed that physicians were deserting Texas in droves,” the April, 2012 paper by academics David A. Hyman from University of Illinois College of Law, Charles Silver of the University of Austin School of Law and Bernard S. Black from Northwestern University’s School of Law, says 

Then after tort reform was enacted, supporters pointed to a massive influx of physicians into Texas due to the improved liability situation.

 “We find no evidence to support either claim,” the study concludes.

Texas has one of the most stringent caps in the nation. Under the Texas reforms a cap on non-economic damages against physicians and other licensed health care providers  is limited to $250,000 and total non-economic damages are capped at $500,000.

The cap can be as high as $750,000 if there is more than one individual held liable for medical malpractice.

 The cap was a clear part of the Republican mantra in the state. Texas Governor Rick Perry justified the reform in a speech when he said.

“The threat of litigation has a domino effect . . . causing malpractice carriers to raise rates, which in turn force many doctors to leave Texas, or in some cases to leave the practice of medicine altogether. And ultimately this hurts patient access the most.”

 The new study questions assertions that themedical malpractice cap led to a major influx of doctors into Texas, citing possible other factors.

“For example, after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005, many citizens of Louisiana relocated to Texas,” the study states.

 It also targets the way backers of the cap have seized on the number of  licenses applied for and issued. They did consider physicians leaving Texas or retiring, the study says. Statistics by the Texas Board of Medical Examiners “do not reflect net changes in Texas’ population of physicians,” the report states.

Nor did the authors find any evidence that the lack of a cap before 2003 was a disincentive to doctors moving to Texas.

“Physician supply was not stunted prior to reform, and did not measurably improve after reform,” the study sai 

“Limiting med mal lawsuits might be a good idea, or a bad one. But the core message from this study, and our related study of the impact of tort reform on health care spending – both consistent with other research – is that tort reform is a small idea, when it comes to the larger and linked questions of health care access and affordability,” the  study concludes.

 The report appears to undermine the arguments of those who have argued providing immunities to doctors would bring more of them to Texas.

 This argument, in itself, raise the question why Texas would want doctors who are anxious to have lesser liability from medical malpractice.

 A number of organizations including the Committee for Justice for All, argue the caps are depriving patients of the standard of healthcare that they need.

More than 20 states have placed a cap on non-economic damages, which limits how much money a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case can get for non-economic compensation, such as pain and suffering.

Lawyers say the main driver behind caps on damages are the lobbyists working for the medical malpractice insurance companies. It is clerly in their best interest to have legislation past that limits the amount of money they will have to pay out to injured patients

 

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