It all depends on what your definition of success is

By any objective measure, tort “reform” has been a failure.

A new study found no evidence that health care costs in Texas dipped after a 2003 constitutional amendment limited payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits, despite claims made to voters by some backers of tort reform.

The researchers, who include University of Texas law professor Charles Silver, examined Medicare spending in Texas counties and saw no reduction in doctors’ fees for seniors and disabled patients between 2002 and 2009. A 2003 voter campaign in Texas, and some congressional backers of Texas-style tort reform in every state, however, argued that capping damage awards would not onlycurb malpractice lawsuits and insurance costs for doctors, it would lower costs for patients while boosting their access to physicians.

Tort reform is a controversial topic likely to be resurrected by Republicans and doctors’ groups who hoped to make it part of the 2010 federal health care law.

The researchers’ findings come after a report last fall in which the Ralph Nader-founded consumer group Public Citizen said it found Medicare spending in Texas rose much faster than the national average after tort reform. Critics of that study said that tort reform leaders never promised health care spending would decline and noted that caps on damage awards brought steep drops in malpractice insurance rates for doctors and large increases in new doctors coming to Texas.

Another study yet to be published on physician supply and tort reform, also by Silver’s group, agrees that malpractice suits and payouts sharply dropped after tort reform. But that study strongly disputes claims of a mass exodus of Texas doctors before tort reform and huge increases afterward.

Of course, that’s assuming the purpose of tort “reform” was to do things like help control health care costs or increase the supply of physicians. If those were your goals, you would have to admit that you didn’t get the results you might have wanted. Given that medical malpractice costs have never been anything more than a minor component of health care costs, this shouldn’t have surprised you, but never mind that. But these were at best secondary reasons for pushing tort “reform”. If they happened to bring about those results, that would be a bonus. The real purpose of tort “reform” was to kneecap trial attorneys, and on that score it’s been a smashing success. The answer to the question depends on what question you ask.

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