Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 25, 2002
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
512-463-0127

Sen. Lucio plans to file legislation on liability limit for trauma care doctors;
Asks doctors to refrain from walkout

There is no perspective quite like the border point-of-view. South Texans face the same problems as our fellow Texans in other parts of the state--the same problems, but with a twist.

Healthcare has long been a nagging issue for the state. As insurance and medical care costs continue to rise with no end in sight, providing adequate care for Texans has become increasingly difficult, particularly along the border.

In order to ensure an acceptable standard of care, the border region needs to attract and keep quality physicians. But doing so is easier said than done. Trauma care doctors--particularly general, orthopaedic, and neurosurgeons-- face a crisis today that keeps these doctors from practicing.

These surgeons find it impossible to obtain liability insurance. Insurance providers no longer offer coverage to many trauma care doctors. Covering those doctors exposes insurance companies to huge liability claims. And even if insurance companies did offer coverage, premium payments, according to some estimates, would range between $75,000 and $90,000 per year.

In order to afford those premiums, trauma care surgeons would need to see more patients in their private practices. But seeing more patients would only further burden our doctors who already practice in a medically underserved community. To illustrate the point, if any one of these types of surgeons could find coverage, the doctor would pay $2 in premiums for $1 in coverage.

Unable to obtain liability insurance and unwilling to expose themselves to gargantuan claims, doctors in trauma care, obstetrics/gynecology, and orthopaedic surgery are abandoning their practices.

During a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing, Dr. Guy Clifton, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, shared the tragic story of a patient, a resident of the Rio Grande Valley. He lost consciousness this January as a result of a blood clot between his skull and brain. Because the hospital did not have the required specialist available, the patient was sent to Houston. Twelve hours later, he underwent a procedure that should have been performed within an hour of losing consciousness. The man died, and there is no question that timely care by a qualified neurosurgeon would have improved his chances of survival significantly. This type of tale is typical of the border trauma care crisis.

To address this issue, I will be putting together a comprehensive legislative package in hopes of requiring liability insurance coverage for doctors while establishing reasonable caps. Mandating coverage will provide the necessary liability protection for doctors. Setting caps will allow insurance companies to again offer coverage plans for our emergency room doctors.

I will be working extensively with the Texas Department of Insurance, physicians' representatives, and consumer groups to make sure that we can create an environment where trauma victims can receive the best medical care quickly and doctors can practice medicine effectively and safely without fear of frivolous claims. Ultimately, we can set a high standard of trauma care while giving South Texans more confidence in our regional health care facilities.

The issue of liability insurance for trauma care physicians has risen to a new level of public awareness with the announcement that doctors all along the border are planning a walkout on April 8, 2002. I have sent letters to heads of doctors groups along the border, offering to hold hearings and set meetings with them and with the Texas Department of Insurance. I have repeatedly asked them NOT to stage a walkout.

Doctors play a major role in our everyday lives; they provide all of us a tremendous sense of security. They should NOT have to resort to walkouts to get our attention. If we all come together, we can work resolve the problem to where it is beneficial to the doctos and the people they are entrusted to care for.

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