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TribBlog: Have Tx Medical Malpractice Caps Failed?

Medical malpractice liability caps Texas lawmakers installed in 2003 have failed to improve the state's health care system, according to a Public Citizen report released today.

Medical malpractice liability caps Texas lawmakers installed in 2003 have failed to improve the state's health care system, according to a Public Citizen report released today.

The report notes that, despite the fact that medical malpractice payments in Texas have fallen 67 percent, many health care indicators remain poor. The only improvement, the report says, is in doctor liability insurance premiums, which have fallen 27 percent.

According to the report:

--The percentage of uninsured Texans has grown.

--The cost of health insurance in Texas has continued to skyrocket.

--Patient Medicare reimbursements have increased at nearly double the national average.

--Spending increases for diagnostic testing have far exceeded the national average.

--Growth in the number of doctors per capita in Texas has slowed.

But that last statement on doctor growth is simply false, said Jon Opelt, executive director of the Texas Alliance For Patient Access.

Opelt says the numbers Public Citizen used to calculate the growth are based on a "undercount" that helped the organization "make an argument they wanted to make."

"In the past three years, the number of primary care doctors in Texas has outpaced population growth by 33 percent," he said.

Opelt, whose Austin-based organization was formed to pass malpractice lawsuit reforms, also says Public Citizen's criteria for determining failure — namely that the percentage of uninsured Texans has grown — makes no sense.

"That's the product of a poor national economy and a high number of small business operators that don't provide or subsidize health insurance for employees," he said, and not related to malpractice liability caps.

Opelt's list of accomplishments since the passage of Texas’ 2003 medical lawsuit reforms include:

--18,252 new physicians licensed in Texas.

--The addition of 768 emergency medicine doctors, 481 heart doctors, 218 obstetricians, 212 orthopedic surgeons, and 48 neurosurgeons.

--Medical liability premiums "cut in half" for most Texas doctors.

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