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October 18, 2002     (512) 463-0300

Medical Malpractice Insurance Occupies Senators in Austin

Texas doctors have had problems getting insurance against malpractice lawsuits and a special committee of the Texas Senate has been charged with finding answers to that problem. To that end, the Senate Special Committee on Prompt Payment of Health Care Providers met this morning at the Senate Chamber in Austin.

Over the past year, many Texas doctors have seen malpractice premiums increase dramatically. Statewide many premiums have doubled. But in certain parts of Texas such as the Rio Grande Valley, doctors may be paying five and six times the amount they were only a couple of years ago.

The first witness was Cheye Calvo of the National Conference of State Legislatures. He said his organization took no position on the issue, but did brief the committee on how other states had faced similar problems. He testified that malpractice insurance was market driven like many other products, and that large jury awards such as many seen in Texas in recent years could not help but drive up premiums. It is an issue that both state and federal governments must face in coming months.

Bill Hammond from the Texas Association of Business said malpractice insurance problems do indeed affect the quality of care that patients receive. Reggie James from Consumers Union agreed with that, but warned the committee that the answer is more complicated than just limiting the amount of damage awards that juries are allowed to give patients who successfully sue. Michael Reiger from the Seton Health Network, testified that there should be reasonable limits on fees for plaintiff's attorneys, saying that sometimes the patients sometimes see only a small portion of the award. Tommy Jacks, an attorney from the firm of Mithoff & Jacks, give the trial lawyers point of view. He said that in other states, insurance companies had not guaranteed that they would lower premiums even when settlements in medical practice trials were enacted.

David Duffner, an Austin trauma surgeon represented the Texas Medical Association. He testified that doctors are squeezed between skyrocketing premiums and the threat of increasing lawsuits. Duffner said that doctors are either practicing defensive medicine, which means more expensive tests as doctors attempt to cover possible diagnoses, or are leaving their current practices altogether.

David Kramer from the Texas Legislative Council then testified on the history of legislative tort reform and how it had affected medical malpractice over the past 25 years. Public testimony followed.

Members of the Senate Special Committee on Prompt Payment of Health Care Providers include Chair Jane Nelson, Senators John Carona, Troy Fraser, Mario Gallegos and Judith Zaffirini. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

You can access the archived audio webcast from the Senate's web page of the Senate Special Committee on Prompt Payment of Health Care Providers .

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