By Texas Watch
Texas voters were given a false choice in 2003: lose their doctors or lose access to their courts. As Texans were going to the polls to vote on an amendment to the state constitution known as Proposition 12, which placed severe and arbitrary restrictions that make it nearly impossible for those devastated by medical negligence to seek justice through our courts, they were inundated by an insurance industry-funded onslaught of slick advertising designed to scare them into thinking that their health care system would collapse if they didn’t give up their constitutional right to seek justice in our courts.
The reality is that we do not have to settle for this false choice. We can – and should – have both strong legal protections, as well as access to quality, affordable health care. Citizens should not be forced to choose between the courts, our most important and effective forum for ensuring accountability, and a quality health care system.
As is often the case in political campaigns, however, the facts gave way to overblown assertions about a so-called medical liability “crisis” that simply did not exist. In fact, a landmark study by legal scholars from three major universities found that the number of large medical liability payments (over $25,000) in Texas were stable between 1991 and 2002 while the number of small claims dropped significantly. Additionally, the number of claims per 100 Texas doctors fell 28.12% (from 6.4 to 4.6) between 1990 and 2002.
As a result of the heated rhetoric and efforts to keep turnout low by manipulating the election date and ballot language, Texas voters issued a split decision (51%-49%), narrowly stripping away the right to legal accountability through our courts.
Patients were told to expect significant improvements in the cost, quality, and access of health care. Well, where are we today? The sad reality is that little has changed to improve health care for those who most need it. Underserved areas remain underserved with Texas ranking near the bottom when it comes to doctors per capita. Health costs continue to rise with personal health insurance premiums rising 92.5% and overall health care spending rising faster than the national average.
It is unlikely that Texas consumers will find any relief in this legislative session, but perhaps the Texas Watch findings can be a lesson to other states (and the federal government) considering additional tort reform litigation.
What has changed is that patients are less safe and the leveling foundation of our courts has crumbled.
The real impact of Proposition 12 is that rural and indigent areas still struggling to meet their health care needs, insurance companies continuing long trends of overcharges, and families devastated by medical negligence climbing an impossibly steep hill to hold those who cause death or injury accountable.
Texas Watch is a non-partisan, citizen advocacy organization working to improve consumer and insurance protections for Texas families. Texas Watch’s thousands of activists across the state make their voices heard to ensure Texas laws reflect the true needs of Texas families, consumers, patients, workers, and policyholders. www.texaswatch.org