Critical Condition

Medical-Liability Reform Is Missing in Pelosicare

Does medical-liability reform affect the cost and quality of health care? Not much, if you believe President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and their trial-lawyer supporters. Christus Health, however, might beg to differ.

I recently wrote about the phenomenal story of Christus Health’s savings from lawsuit reform in Texas. Pre-tort reform, Christus spent $150 million a year in medical-liability expenses. Last year, Christus’s medical-liability expenses were only $2.3 million. The savings has gone to expanded charity care, new technology, and increased training for its staff.

Texans chose to increase access to health care instead of unfettered opportunities to bring frivolous lawsuits. The results have been staggering, with record numbers of physicians coming to Texas from all over the country each year. Primary-care doctors and needed specialists are filling up previously underserved areas of the state, including venues once known as judicial hell holes.

But none of the Democratic health-care legislation provides lawsuit reform. Worse, Section 261 (p. 149–150) of Speaker Pelosi’s bill puts physicians in an impossible conundrum. Doctors will only be reimbursed that amount for which the health-care commissioner determines is the appropriate treatment for a particular set of symptoms. However, doctors may still be held legally liable for failing to give that care which they could or should have given if additional care is actually more appropriate for the patient’s well being.

So doctors are left with a choice between providing care that they know will benefit the patient but for which they may not be reimbursed, or providing limited care for which they will be reimbursed but quite possibly also sued by the patient.

Beyond that, each Democrat version of national health care initiates opportunities to expose doctors to new fees, fines, restrictions, red tape, and new causes of action.

Commonsense lawsuit reform demonstrably provides greater access to health care. Sadly, it’s one of the most important meaningful ingredients missing in the health-care legislation.

The Honorable Joseph M. Nixon is a Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and of counsel with the Houston law firm Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, LLP. As Chairman of the Texas House Committee on Civil Practices in 2003, he authored Texas’s medical-liability reforms (HB 4 and HJR 3/Proposition 12).