Texas Malpractice Caps Blasted, Defended

John Commins, October 14, 2011

Medical liability caps enacted in Texas in 2003 have not reduced rising medical costs in the Lone Star State, and expose as false claims that malpractice expenses are a key driver for medical inflation, according to a study from Public Citizen.

"Despite the sales campaign to promote Texas as an exhibit of the merits of limiting doctors' liability for mistakes, the real-world data tell the opposite story," Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division and author of the report, said in a media release. "Healthcare in Texas has become more expensive and less accessible since the state's malpractice caps took effect."

Public Citizen's report -- A Failed Experiment: Health Care in Texas Has Worsened in Key Respects Since State Instituted Liability Caps in 2003 -- analyzes the costs and availability of healthcare since Texas imposed the $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. The report says that malpractice litigation has been cut in half, but Medicare spending has soared.

"This contradicts the 'defensive medicine' theory, which holds that fear of litigation is to blame for stark increases healthcare costs. Also, since the caps were instituted in Texas, health insurance costs have outpaced the national average and the percentage of residents lacking health insurance has risen,'" the report says.

However, Jon Opelt, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, an advocacy group for malpractice reforms whose members include the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association, said in an interview with HealthLeaders that the Public Citizen report is fundamentally flawed, and that it misstates the original intent of the malpractice reforms.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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