May 06, 2008
New flash: Trial lawyers weren't the problem

Boy, Monday's Chron sure was full of head-slappers, wasn't it? Suburbs have traffic! Professors are people! Tort "reform" hasn't done squat about the high cost of medical insurance!

In 2003 doctors, insurance companies and state leaders sold the voters on a constitutional amendment putting new restrictions on medical malpractice claims filed by "greedy" trial lawyers. That supposedly has improved the health care climate for doctors.

But their patients, including the physicians' own employees, continue to get whacked with rising health care premiums.

Just last week, a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that Texas ranked third among the states in health insurance premium increases -- 40 percent -- from 2001 to 2005. Small wonder that Texas continues to lead the nation in the percentage of residents -- about one-fourth -- without health insurance.

There is little state regulation of health insurance in Texas, but the Legislature will get another opportunity to do something about it next year, when the Texas Department of Insurance is up for sunset review.

Expect a big fight, with doctors and insurers, former allies in the so-called "tort reform" coalition, squaring off against each other.

Better start stocking up on the popcorn now. That's going to be fun to watch.

The health insurance squeeze hit close to home for the Texas Academy of Family Physicians when it received a policy renewal notice for its 11-member administrative staff in Austin.

Its insurer, a leader in providing group coverage in Texas, raised the academy's premiums by 23 percent, prompting the medical group to pick a plan (with higher employee deductibles) from a competing company.

Tom Banning, the academy's CEO, said frustration worsened when administrators learned that only 74 percent of premiums they had paid to the former insurer had been spent on medical care.

The remainder went to the insurer's administrative costs and profits.

gasp! You mean the insurance companies are a bunch of greedy bastards? Nobody could have foreseen that! I'd ask for smelling salts, but I can't afford the copayments on them.

Seriously. This would be hilarious if the joke weren't on the rest of us.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 06, 2008 to Show Business for Ugly People

The Chron is feeling especially Chronical-ly lately. That's why I subscribed to the NYT. Hopefully they'll start delivering it soon.

Posted by: SP on May 6, 2008 9:37 AM

What I'd like to see in these "feel-good reasons for stealing from Texans" laws is some performance metrics. "OK, insurers, you can have your restrictions, but if rates don't stop going up, it will automatically trigger either rollbacks or price controls.

Tie the graft change in the law to the supposed benefit. We can call this "accountability" and see how it goes.

Posted by: Michael on May 6, 2008 10:02 AM

Hey, better late than never. The local broadcast media are certainly never going to break this kind of story. The real knee-slapper will be the responses in the Letters to the Editor section.

Posted by: Temple Houston on May 6, 2008 10:51 AM

I remember that vote to limit the awards to people injured by doctors and hospitals was on a weekend in September. Why don't we have a re-vote this November or at least vote out in November the people who pushed for the restrictions.

Posted by: cb on May 6, 2008 1:18 PM

Tort Reform was never about lowering health insurance premiums. The movement was instigated by big construction companies and their defense attornies to limit construction/builder liability. (If you can't win in court and won't clean up your act, then change the law.) Based on recent Chron articles about home buyers' inability to get justice or compensation from unscrupulous builders, we're reaping what was sown.

Doctor outrage over malpractice liability and their malpractice insurance premiums was the facade for limiting builder liability. And by the way, malpratice premiums haven't gone down either.

Posted by: Helvering's Nag on May 6, 2008 2:30 PM