Medical Malpractice Insurance Reform Results Examined at Capitol
Changes in medical malpractice insurance law ordered by House Bill 4 from the 78th Legislature have begun to take effect, and the results are beneficial for doctors and will soon be for patients as well. That was the subject of Lt. Governor David Dewhurst's press conference at the Capitol today, September 20, 2004, as well as the Senate Committee on State Affairs meeting in the Senate Chamber.
Flanked by doctors from all over Texas, the Lieutenant Governor told the assembled press that medical malpractice reform is working. He said that by the first of next year, the state's major doctor-owned insurance carrier will have reduced malpractice rates by seventeen percent. He said that just as important, Texas doctors who were considering leaving the profession because of high malpractice rates are staying in and many who had left the profession are retuning. He said that meant better health care for Texans, especially in the rural areas that traditionally have difficulty attracting physicians.
At the State Affairs Committee meeting, Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor testified that the effects are dramatic. He told the committee that premiums have decreased about ten percent over the past year, insurance is now more available and that thirteen new carriers have entered the market. He compared this with the situation two years ago, when was insurance difficult to get and rising in price every year.
Chairman Robert Duncan said that over the past few years, people have just accepted double-digit increases in health care costs as a given, and that this is the first step to stopping those rises.
Tom Cotten, from the Texas Medical Liability Trust, the state's not-for-profit health care liability claim trust, said his organization is still trying to determine what the level of non-economic damages awarded in the future will be, but that significant savings are expected. That's because relatively few claims have been settled under the new law.
Tim Kenesy is President of Medical Protective Company, the first of the new companies to recently enter the Texas market. He told the commission that his company came to Texas because of the changes in state law and believes the market here for medical malpractice insurance will become stable and competitive.
Dr. Stanley Fish, of the Texas Medical Association, said that Texas doctors in the future will be facing new challenges, as over the next ten to fifteen years they see higher incidences of diabetes and people with weight problems. He also said Texas needed to do a better job of keeping Texas medical school graduates in the state when they begin to practice and that this task was easier due to the medical malpractice reforms.
Matt Wall, from the Texas Hospital Association, said that hospital liability premiums had also dropped, by a total of seventeen percent and that lawsuit filings are down by more than two thirds. He also said they were having greater successes in recruiting new physicians.
Patty Patterson of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center for Rural and Community Health, said that facilities still have reimbursement issues with Medicare and Medicaid. When asked by Chairman Robert Duncan, she said that telemedicine, having doctors visit patients by videoconference, was one tool that they can use to hold down their insurance premiums. Manuel De La Rosa, Dean of the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center at El Paso testified that foreign medical students should be allowed to stay in Texas after they finish their studies here.
The committee is also studying the affordability, reasonableness and impact of mandatory liability insurance on the nursing home industry. Public testimony followed.
The Senate Committee on State Affairs is chaired by Senator Robert Duncan. Vice-chair is Senator Tommy Williams. The members include Senators Ken Armbrister, Rodney Ellis, Troy Fraser, Chris Harris, Frank Madla, Jane Nelson and Florence Shapiro. The committee recessed with its next meeting scheduled for tomorrow, September 21st, in the Senate Chamber.
Also meeting today was the Senate Finance Committee. It is continuing to look at budget requests from state agencies. Scheduled on today's agenda was the Attorney General, Commission of the arts, Office of the Governor and Trusteed Programs, Commission on State Emergency Communications and the Ethics Commission. The Committee was to also hear from fourteen Courts of Appeal.
The Senate Committee on Finance is chaired by Senator Steve Ogden. The Vice-Chair is Senator Judith Zaffirini. Members include Senators Kip Averitt, Gonzalo Barrientos, Kim Brimer, Bob Deuell, Robert Duncan, Kyle Janek, Jane Nelson, Florence Shapiro, Eliot Shapleigh, Todd Staples, Royce West, John Whitmire and Tommy Williams. The Committee recessed subject to call of the chair.