It’s long been established that part of controlling rising health care spending in the United States will mean enacting meaningful medical malpractice, or “tort”, reform. Though tort reform is not a silver bullet to creating savings, it is one of many changes vital to containing patients’ medical costs.
Unfortunately, in passing the mammoth Obamacare, Congress and the president failed to take tort reform seriously, leaving out any serious provisions to encourage states to reform their medical malpractice laws. Instead, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act threw an illusory bone to Republicans, the main proponents of tort reform, through the inclusion of $25 million in demonstration grants to try out new state-level ideas for reform.
This week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the winners of the grants. The money will be split among small, voluntary programs by hospitals and medical centers and “planning grants”. Completely unacknowledged are the several states where malpractice reform has already been enacted with clear results.
Obamacare’s medical malpractice reform demonstration programs will be small and inconsequential, and are unlikely to have any serious effect. However, states can—and should—go ahead with tort reform without Washington, using states that have already successfully implemented reform, such as Texas and Mississippi, as their guide.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour both visited The Heritage Foundation to discuss the success of their states’ reform efforts. Regarding Texas, we wrote that, “Prior to establishing liability restrictions in 2003, Texas was a haven for big medical tort litigation, triggering a dramatic increase in medical malpractice insurance rates. As a result, doctors left the state. Out of the 254 counties in Texas, 99 lost at least one specialist. Unfortunately, the majority of specialists left rural counties, leaving no additional specialists in the area. Access to care and quality plummeted. In 2003, Texas took action by passing comprehensive medical liability reform. The results were outstanding. Malpractice premiums fell by 27 percent on average and 125 counties added a high-risk specialist. Health systems began saving millions in medical liability costs and reinvested those savings in technologies (such as electronic medical records) designed to improve quality of care.”
The states don’t need trivial demonstration programs funded by the federal government to create savings for their doctors and patients through medical liability reform. All they need to do to be successful is look to their neighbors, who, acting as “the laboratories of government” they were intended to be, have already demonstrated the right way to reform.