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Limiting patient rights has failed in Texas

"taylor lincoln" You might remember that during the health care debate, many opponents of reform blamed medical malpractice litigation for our soaring health care costs and burgeoning numbers of uninsured.

“Prevent the lawsuits,” they essentially said, “and our health care problems will solve themselves.”

One of their chief exhibits was the state of Texas, which imposed some of the strictest liability caps in the country in 2003 and, in the critics’ imaginations, had experienced wondrous results. For instance, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said, “the state of Texas did a wonderful job of lawsuit reform and actually saw medical costs come down.”

We decided to take a look at what really has happened in the Lone Star state since it imposed a $250,000 cap on doctors’ liability for non-economic damages and immunized emergency room doctors except in cases of “wanton” negligence.

What we found is that the reality is the opposite of the rhetoric.

First, as the tort reform crowd hoped, litigation did go way down. Payments for malpractice are down 65 percent since 2003 and nearly 75 percent if corrected for inflation and population growth.

But regular Texans have not received any of the benefits they were promised in exchange for giving up their legal rights.

Medicare spending in the state has increased faster than the national average on a per-enrollee basis, meaning the increases are not connected to Texas’s rising population.

The more discretionary types of Medicare spending, such as for diagnostic testing, have risen even faster compared to national norms. Viewed in conjunction with Texas’s plummeting litigation rates, this contradicts the “defensive medicine” argument, which holds that doctors order more tests and procedures to insulate themselves from litigation.

Health insurance costs in Texas have risen by more than 50 percent since 2003, slightly faster than the national average.

The percentage of uninsured in Texas has increased, solidifying the state’s distinction of having the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country.

The per capita population of primary care doctors has flat-lined and the prevalence of rural doctors practicing in the state has decreased slightly.

The term “Texas Miracle,” has become fashionable of late. But with miracles like these, who needs tragedies?

Taylor Lincoln is the research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

For more on this topic, check out this post: The NPDB Shut Down: Even Worse Than Texas Malpractice Law? from the Center for Justice & Democracy’s Pop Tort blog.