Tort reform can help increase the number of health care providers in a state, which leads to better choices for patients. Texas saw this happen after it enacted tort reform in 2003. Over the next ten years, the number of doctors in Texas nearly doubled, growing at twice the rate of the state’s population.
The huge increase in doctors that followed its enactment of tort reform is likely due, in part, to falling medical malpractice premiums. One study examined various states’ changes in malpractice premiums in the decade after tort reform. In that decade, malpractice premiums fell, on average, by over 60 percent in Texas. In contrast, however, malpractice premiums in New York rose by over 60 percent. One result of this was that nearly two thousand physicians moved their practice from New York to Texas.
More particularly, studies have shown that limiting non-economic damages under the law has lowered malpractice premiums. The majority of states have established such reforms — Arkansas is in the minority. One can imagine how physicians who practice medicine in a limitless-liability state like Arkansas would find it unpleasant to realize that, every time they make a medical decision, they’re in danger of an unlimited malpractice judgment that could bring an end to their career. Studies also show that tort reform reduces the use of “defensive medicine,” or medicine undertaken simply to avoid lawsuits. There is little to no evidence, however, that such reforms harm patient care or increase the risk of malpractice.
The bottom-line question: is tort reform good for patients? The answer is yes, because Arkansas needs more doctors and better health-care access. When measured by doctors per citizen, Arkansas is in the bottom 20 percent of states. Arkansas has the sixth highest rate of cancer deaths of all the states, largely because of poor access to cancer screening and treatment. These problems would presumably diminish if more health-care professionals practiced in Arkansas.
This is the second in a series of posts that will explore the issues surrounding tort reform.