"TORT REFORM" ARGUMENTS -- ARE THEY EVER RIGHT?

"TORT REFORM" ARGUMENTS -- ARE THEY EVER RIGHT? Brother Ezra had a Slate piece this summer about the many empirical problems with the argument that capping medical malpractice suits would be a major source of cost reduction for the American medical system. (As Ezra points out, the overwhleming evidence against the idea that runaway malpractice awards drives up health care costs is amassed clearly and devastatingly in Tom Baker's terrific book, The Medical Malpractice Myth.)

Another "fact" often used by proponents of tort reform was that doctors were allegedly fleeing states like Texas because of its "out-of-control" tort system. So after Texas passed a bill in 2003 dramatically limiting the rights of Texans injured by doctors to sue, doctors must have started flooding back into the state, right? Er, not so much. In fact, "growth rates for the post-reform years were below the Texas norm ... From 1990-2002, the number of physicians practicing in the state grew at an average rate of 3.21% per year and 6.71% every two years. In 2004 and 2005, supply grew more slowly, averaging only 1.98% per year and 4.74% over two years." Whoops! So what have the effects of "tort reform" in Texas been? As Charles Silver summaraizes:

In sum, the 2003 Texas reforms transferred a lot of wealth from malpractice victims, their families, employers, and health insurers to physicians and their liability insurers. This was the main object of the 2003 reforms, and the reforms achieved it. But the reforms have not increased physician supply, which grew at a sub-par rate in the post-reform years. The facts show yet again how wealthy and concentrated interest groups use the political process to advantage, at the expense of groups whose members are anonymous and dispersed.

"Tort reform" in the field of medical malpractice is simply a fraud.

--Scott Lemieux

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