In the recent debate over medical insurance reform an often trumpeted statement is that legal malpractice cases are driving up the cost of health insurance coverage. To support this view Texans for Lawsuit Reform cite the statistic that medical-liability-insurance rates have gone down by an average of 21% after Texas imposed various legal changes to medical liability laws.
The greatest change to Texas law was placing a cap of $250,000.00 for non-economic damages. Valid claims of medical neglect, no matter how blatant or careless the doctor, nurse or hospital staff may be, are all capped under the law. Although allegedly aimed at preventing frivolous claims, this Texas law actually places a cap against EVERY claim against a health care provider. Instead of punishing those that might try to bring a frivolous case, the law actually victimizes those with valid claims – by limiting the lawful recovery for serious and permanent injuries, victims of malpractice are also victims of this Texas law.
However, while this cap on damages may have allowed doctors and hospitals to increase their income by reducing expenses, it has done nothing to reduce the average Texan’s health insurance bill. Whether you live in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, the Rio Grande Valley or anywhere else in Texas your health insurance rates have risen at the same rate as everyone else in the United States. The difference is in Texas if you are seriously injured by the carelessness of a physician or hospital staff you may not be able to find a lawyer that can pursue the doctor’s insurance company if you do not have large economic damages. Therefore, the elderly, unemployed, and the very young often cannot pursue a medical malpractice case even though they may have been seriously injured by a physician’s negligence.
In Texas there is a requirement that before filing a medical malpractice case against a health care provider an expert physician file with the court a written report that the defendant health care provider committed negligence and that the negligence harmed the patient. This prevents frivolous lawsuits from being filed. The only effect of the damage cap is to prevent those persons who are very seriously injured from being fully compensated. There are no exceptions to the Texas cap on damages, regardless of the seriousness of the injury; no one can recover more than $250,000. for pain, suffering or disfigurement.
In this national debate on health care it is important to understand what medical malpractice reform has meant to the average Texan. The average Texan has given up rights and has received no reduction in the cost of health care. Doctors and hospitals are no longer fully accountable if the injured party was elderly, disabled, or unemployed, because they have little or no economic damages. We have taken a valuable legal right from our most vulnerable citizens with the veiled assurance that medical costs will be reduced; however, the facts are that our health insurance rates continue to skyrocket and hospitals and insurance companies make larger profits.
The other often cited argument in the “heath care crisis” is that the threat of a lawsuit has made doctors order unnecessary tests as a defense to a potential lawsuit – costing more to insurance companies. While it is possible that some doctors may occasionally order additional tests because of the potential threat, it is also possible that these tests will also prevent a misdiagnosis and further injuries. The best solution would be to decrease errors and to remove error prone doctors from the practice of medicine. Rather than complain about being held accountable, the health care industry should focus on making treatment effective and affordable. How are we served when insurance companies and doctors have no accountability, and your health insurance premiums keep going up?