Taking On Texas

The Healthcare Leadership Council has never endorsed candidates for public office and we’re not going to start doing that now.  I have to say, though, that there is a tangible benefit to Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) announcing his candidacy for President.  It presents an opportunity to have a real debate about the merits of medical liability reform.

In his campaign, Perry will undoubtedly talk about the gains Texas has realized since its state legislature passed a measure capping non-economic damages in medical liability suits.  Conversely, pundits and bloggers have already started taking shots at Lone Star-style tort reform ever since Perry announced his run for the White House.

A good example was found this week in The Incidental Economist blog.  Relying heavily on the work of the interest group Public Citizen, a virulently anti-tort reform organization, the blog makes the case that Texas liability reform has not succeeded in reducing healthcare costs or the number of uninsured citizens. 

Those opposed to tort reform tend to make these apples-and-oranges arguments.  It’s akin to saying, if reforms make my car insurance premiums go down, shouldn’t I also have safer roads and better gas mileage.  The fact is that malpractice insurance premiums and the costs associated with defensive medicine are just two components in the overall healthcare cost equation. (A logical question would be, what would healthcare costs be in Texas had tort reform not been enacted.)

And, as for the uninsured population, Sarah Kliff, formerly of Politico and now with the Washington Post, does a nice analysis here regarding the reasons Texas has a relatively high number of uninsured citizens.

Another piece worth reading is an op-ed in the New York Post this week, written by a Texas tort reform advocate, about the number of New York doctors heading south because of New York’s high malpractice premiums.  The op-ed tells the story of an obstetrician whose medical liability premiums were heading toward $200,000 per year, making it impossible to continue to do business. 

Now, Texas patients benefit from the services of that doctor and over 1,200 other physicians that have made the New York-to-Texas exodus since the latter state passed liability reform.

With the study released this week in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that three-fourths of the nation’s physicians will likely be sued at some point in their career – with a 99 percent probability in the high-risk specialties – let’s hope that Governor Perry’s candidacy does indeed ignite a national debate over the need for medical liability reform.