Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tort "Reform": Rearing its ugly head in Arizona

This is what happens when holiday boredom sets in so I have time to surf sites I don't get to as often as I should...

A little light reading over at the website of twigged a memory of something on the AZ lege's website, so I checked it out.

As noted before this, members of the lege have already started filing bills for the session starting in January. Two of them, SCR1003 and SCR1006, are proposed amendments to the Arizona Constitution.

SCR1003 would repeal Article II, Section 31, a section that bars enacting laws that limit "the amount of damages to be recovered for causing the death or injury of any person."

SCR1006 would repeal that section as well as Article XVIII, Section 6, a section that states "[t]he right of action to recover damages for injuries shall never be abrogated, and the amount recovered shall not be subject to any statutory limitation."

If passed by both chambers of the lege and by the voters at the ballot, either measure would open the door to caps on medical liability awards, among other things. (Though SCR1006 would do a more comprehensive job of it)

It's telling that the sponsors of these measures are among the "worst of the worst" members of the lege when it comes to protecting the best interests of their constituents. The list of sponsors includes Sen. Jack Harper (not a surprise that his name is attached to both measures), Rep. Judy Burges, Sen. Russell Pearce, and Sen. Chuck Gray. They are all known for sacrificing the needs of their constituents on the altars of political dogma and expediency.

If those measures gain a hearing this year, and they just might as it is an election year and incumbent legislators will be trolling for PAC money for their campaigns, their supporters will be certain to tout them as a way to increase accessibility to health care and to reduce costs for Arizonans. They will likely cite the example of Texas, which has enacted its own medical liability caps, and say that such things are needed to decrease malpractice insurance premiums for medical providers and increase accessibility to medical care for patients.

The problem with that? That rationale is almost totally false.

From Public Citizen's report on the effects of tort "reform" in Texas (a press release with a brief summary here) -

Since the liability laws took effect:

• The cost of health care in Texas (measured by per patient Medicare reimbursements) has increased at nearly double the national average;
• spending increases for diagnostic testing (measured by per patient Medicare reimbursements) have far exceeded the national average;
• the state’s uninsured rate has increased, remaining the highest in the country;
• the cost of health insurance in the state has more than doubled;
• growth in the number of doctors per capita has slowed; and
• the number of doctors per capita in underserved rural areas has declined.

The only improvement in Texas since 2003 has been a decline in doctors’ liability insurance premiums. But payments by liability insurers on behalf of doctors have dropped far more than doctors’ premiums. This suggests that insurers are pocketing more of the savings than they arepassing to doctors.
In short, instead of improving Texas' health care system for all, as promised, award caps have improved things mostly just for insurance companies.

I recommend that all Arizona legislators and their constituents read the Public Citizen report before forming an opinion on SCRs 1003 and 1006. When the rhetoric starts flying around as the Rs in the lege and their ALEC puppeteers try to get this stuff on the ballot, the citizens of Arizona will need some defenders armed with facts.

Stripping constitutional protections from all Arizonans doesn't improve anything for the residents of Arizona, just for profiteers from Big Insurance.


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