Texas-sized Legal Reform Leads to Super-Sized Health Care Costs

Traveling Show Rolls into Raleigh, Leaves Reality Behind

Mar 02, 2011, 09:30 ET from NC Advocates for Justice

RALEIGH, N.C., March 2, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Lobbyists and corporate interests touting "Texas-sized legal reform" for North Carolina today will conveniently be leaving out the realities of the Lone Star State's disappointing results, say patient advocates.

Tort reform in Texas has not brought down health care costs. In fact, health care costs in Texas have increased faster than North Carolina's and the national average. Meanwhile, injured patients in Texas are left with a system that makes it difficult to impossible to seek justice in cases of malpractice.

"Texas-sized spin can't change the fact that denying injured patients their constitutional right to have a jury decide their case is wrong and puts all of us in danger. Reckless and radical moves in Texas did not achieve their goals and aren't right for North Carolina," said Dick Taylor of the NC Advocates for Justice.

The ten-gallon spin bites the dust on two important points:

1.) Texas tort reform will not lower health care costs. After Texas enacted radical "reform," its health care costs increased much faster than costs in North Carolina.

2.) Texas tort reform will not give North Carolina an edge in attracting doctors -- because doctors have been coming to North Carolina at a higher rate than to Texas since Texas enacted its radical reform.

The Truth About Costs: Texas Suffered Massive Increase

Senate Bill 33, the anti-patient bill sponsored by Senators Apodaca, Brown and Rucho, is modeled on the radical version of malpractice reform that Texas enacted in 2003. The primary feature of the Texas bill was a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages -- including damages for disfigurement, mutilation, loss of limb, paralysis, pain, suffering and death.

The backers of SB 33 claim that "Texas-style" malpractice reform will bring down health care costs in North Carolina because doctors will be less inclined to practice "defensive medicine."

To test that theory, patient advocates looked at what happened to health care costs after Texas enacted its anti-patient bill in 2003. And they compared the Texas experience to what happened in North Carolina, where the legislature has -- until now -- refused to violate the constitutional right to trial by jury. Here's what the Medicare data show:

Medicare spending per enrollee in Texas grew from $7553 in 2003 to $9962 in 2007, an increase of 31.9% (far above the national average of 26.5%)

During the same period, Medicare spending per enrollee in North Carolina grew from $6290 to $7911, an increase of 25.8% (below the national average).

In the five-year period after Texas enacted a $250,000 cap in malpractice cases, its Medicare costs per enrollee increased 23% faster than the rate of growth in North Carolina.

Bottom line: North Carolina should not pass a law to take away the right to trial by jury because it's unconstitutional and because it will do nothing to lower health care costs.

The Truth About Attracting Doctors: NC Trumps Texas

The backers of SB 33 claim that enacting the one-size-fits-all cap on damages caused physicians to "flock to Texas." However, data from the American Medical Association show that physicians are flocking to North Carolina at a faster rate than to Texas:

North Carolina has 3.1 physicians per 1,000 people, compared to only 2.6 in Texas.

As part of a national trend, the number of physicians in Texas has increased in recent years. However, since Texas enacted caps in 2003, the physician population has increased at a faster rate in North Carolina than in Texas.

Since 2003, the number of physicians per capita increased 2.6% faster in North Carolina than in Texas.

In addition to beating Texas, North Carolina's physician growth rate has exceeded South Carolina's since South Carolina enacted an arbitrary cap on damages in malpractice cases in 2005.

Since 2005, the number of physicians per capita has increased 36% faster in North Carolina than in South Carolina.

Bottom line: North Carolina should not pass a law to take away the right to trial by jury because the law will do nothing to attract doctors to our state.

Instead, North Carolina should work to prevent malpractice. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that 4,000 patients die and 5,700 patients are permanently injured in North Carolina hospitals every year because of preventable medical mistakes.

For more information, please visit www.LetJuriesDecide.com, and contact Todd@ncaj.com.

SOURCE NC Advocates for Justice