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STUDY: Texas Tort Reform Did Not Reduce Health Care Costs

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"STUDY: Texas Tort Reform Did Not Reduce Health Care Costs"

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In 2003, Texas voters approved Proposition 12, tort reform which capped medical malpractice payouts and made it more difficult for patients to sue hospitals. Republican politicians, led by Gov. Rick Perry (R), claimed that doctors were providing less services to patients because they feared getting sued. Republicans, joined by a “Yes on 12” campaign funded by the health insurance industry, promised that the amendment would lower health care costs and bring an influx of doctors to the state. Since 2003, Republicans nationwide have touted Texas as a model for tort reform.

Now, a group of researchers studying Texas Medicare spending have found no decrease in doctors’ fees for senior citizens between 2002 and 2009. Medicare payments to doctors rose 1 to 2 percent faster than the rest of the country, Northwestern professor Bernard Black, a researcher on the study, said.

In urban and high population counties, the study’s authors expected to see lower health care costs stemming from a reduction in medical tests doctors previously used to protect themselves from lawsuits. However, the researchers found no decrease in costs and a slight increase in medical tests performed. “This is not a result we expected,” said Bernard Black, a co-author and a professor at Northwestern University’s Law School and Kellogg School of Management.

During his short-lived presidential run, Rick Perry claimed that Prop 12 brought 21,000 doctors to Texas; that claim was ranked “False” by PolitiFact. Other advocates, like the industry-funded Texas Alliance for Patient Access behind the “Yes on 12” campaign, have claimed that tort reform brought 5,000 doctors to Texas. An unpublished study by the same group of researchers rejects that claim, which they say ignores “doctors who left the state or retired, creating vacancies for their jobs; physicians who don’t treat patients but do research or administrative work; and physician growth compared with other states.” When these factors are taken into account, the study found, doctor growth has actually declined slightly since 2003.

Ben Sherman

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