15 years on, Proposition 12 continues to expand health care options across Texas, say tort reform groups
By: David Yates
AUSTIN — As Texas marks the 15th anniversary of voter approval of a landmark medical liability reform, the state continues to see dramatic improvement in access to health care.
Voters in September 2003 passed Proposition 12 — the Texas constitutional amendment that capped non-economic damages in medical liability lawsuits.
The reform was passed to address a worsening crisis in health care access brought on by soaring awards for non-economic damages, questionable lawsuits and abusive legal practices against doctors, a press release states.
The result was skyrocketing medical liability insurance premiums and doctors leaving high-risk specialties and areas of the state known as lawsuit abuse hotbeds.
“The results achieved by Proposition 12 are nothing short of impressive,” said D’Anne Buquet, executive director of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “When you look at how health care access has improved dramatically over the past 15 years, it’s clear that Proposition 12 has delivered on its promise.”
Further, while Proposition 12 placed caps on non-economic damages, compensation for traditional, measurable damages like lost wages and medical bills was left intact, maintaining continuity in the justice system for those who need it most.
Roger Borgelt, member of the board of CALA of Central Texas, commented on the state’s recovery following the passage of Proposition 12: “Back in 2003, the rate of physician licensure was shrinking not just relative to the booming population, but also in absolute terms. This put a dangerous strain on the state’s medical resources as the population grew rapidly. Since then, we’ve seen annual physician licensure more than double.”
Borgelt also noted that over the past six years, only California has added more patient care doctors than Texas, and only four states bested Texas in percentage growth.
However, the gains that have resulted from Proposition 12 are more than just quantitative.
Since Proposition 12 passed, the number of physicians in high-risk specializations — such as vascular surgery, neurosurgery, and emergency medicine — has increased by more than 60 percent, as many doctors in those specializations no longer fear getting hit with a frivolous lawsuit.
Additionally, the benefits of Proposition 12 have extended to remote and traditionally under-served areas of Texas. Since 2003, sixty-one rural counties have added an emergency medicine physician, including 45 rural counties than previously had none.
Sergio Contreras, president of the Rio Grande Valley CALA added that the benefits of Proposition 12 extend beyond health care access: “Besides the obvious health care benefits, lawsuit reform has relieved our civil justice system of thousands of questionable lawsuits, making the system more efficient for those plaintiffs with legitimate grievances.”
Still, CALA members urge vigilance to preserve the benefits of Proposition 12.
“We’ve definitely moved the needle in the right direction over the last 15 years,” said Contreras. “But we need to sustain and protect those gains as we move toward a future where all Texans have even greater access to the medical care they deserve.”