Texas sees results from tort reform

But physicians say there's still a long way to go.

By Tanya Albert amednews correspondent — Posted Sept. 13, 2004

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A year after Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment that established tort reform, physicians say they are starting to offer patients procedures that they had once abandoned because of liability risks.

A surgeon in Alice is again treating trauma patients with severe bone injuries. An Abilene otolaryngologist started treating patients who need complicated facial nerve surgeries, and a Houston radiation oncologist now treats more complex cancer patients, according to a Texas Medical Assn. survey released in August.

Overall, nearly 9% of the 1,259 physicians who responded to the TMA survey said they've started providing new services to their patients. Another 6% said they have added some services, but deleted others. More than 75% of physicians who added services said "a perceived or expected change in the professional liability climate" was a "very" or "somewhat important" factor in their decision.

"During the legislative debate on liability reform and the campaign to pass Proposition 12, physicians documented how lawsuit abuse was constricting Texans' access to quality medical care," TMA President Bohn Allen, MD, said. "Now we're seeing the beginnings of the turnaround we expected."

According to the survey, since the reforms went into effect Sept. 1, 2003:

  • 13% of physicians said they stopped providing certain services, down from the 51% who did so the year before the reform.
  • 90% of physicians said liability pressures were "very" or "somewhat important" factors now, compared with 97% who said so last year.
  • 20% of doctors said they are referring complex or high risk cases now, compared with 62% in 2003.

The numbers are positive, but Dr. Allen said there's still a long way to go. "The driving force in that journey will be the systematic reduction of liability insurance premiums."

The physician-owned Texas Medical Liability Trust cut rates across the board by 12% this year, and doctors want other companies to follow suit.

The TMA e-mailed its survey to 12,506 actively practicing TMA members and 10% completed it.

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