One of the main conservative talking points regarding control of health insurance costs has to do with tort reform. In order to reduce the cost of medical care, they say, we must limit frivolous lawsuits and limit the amount of the awards to victims when the lawsuits turn out to be not so frivolous. According to the conservatives, this will reduce the cost to insurance companies and thereby reduce the cost of malpractice insurance premiums to physicians. Physicians, in turn, will reduce the amount they have to charge their patients for medical care. Everybody’s happy. Well, maybe not.
Here in the great state of Texas, in 2003, the conservatives, backed by insurance companies and physician’s lobbies ran an energetic, extensive, expensive and very effective campaign, extolling the virtues of tort reform and demonizing those who have received hefty malpractice jury awards in order to get tort reform passed. And pass it did; and by no small margin.
The campaign promised lower insurance premiums for those already covered and with lower premiums, a greater access to health insurance for those who have been, heretofore, unable to afford insurance. Texans flocked to vote for tort reform; finally, they would be able to take care of their families. Tort reform would become the insurance version of the Promised Land. The streets would be paved with gold.
It is now 2009; six years since the enactment of tort reform and the streets are paved with gold. Well, if you happen to be an insurance company or a physician they’re paved with gold. For patients, not so much.
Insurance companies in Texas are making greater profits than ever. Medically related lawsuits have been reduced by 70% since 2003. In addition, since damage amounts are capped, costs to insurers are further dramatically reduced.Physicians have seen cuts in their insurance costs of anywhere from 25 to, in some cases, over 50 percent. So far so good?
Unfortunately, for the majority of those who so ardently supported tort reform (i.e. patients) it was still more of their gold with which the streets were paved.
Insurance premiums in Texas have skyrocketed 104 percent since 2000. Texas suffers with the highest rate of uninsured in the nation. 25 percent of all Texans have no health insurance coverage. 75 percent of those are households with at least one full-time worker. Employer sponsored health care coverage in Texas has, in fact, declined from 57 percent to 50 percent since tort reform became the law of the land. Co-pays have continued to increase every year.
There is no question that tort reform is a panacea, but only for those already making a killing by keeping people alive.