Medical myths

Two most prevalent medical myths are that America has the best health care system in the world and that tort reform provisions capping damages for medical malpractice has made medical treatment cheaper for the consumers of Texas.

P.T. Barnum of circus fame once said there was a sucker born every minute. Unfortunately, enough money can make suckers out of otherwise thoughtful voters. In fact, Texans have been sucker-punched more than once by the big money behind “tort reform,” as they call it.

Texans were sold a bill of goods in 2003 when persuaded to vote for a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to put limits on what damages doctors could be held responsible for when they committed malpractice. At the time, the PR folks hired by the insurance companies, doctors and others based their campaign on lowering the cost of medical care to all Texans — a strategy that they now deny. Even as Republicans in Congress in advocating national caps on medical malpractice are still predicting and stating Texas has proved placing caps on damages for malpractice will lower the cost of medical care for consumers and encourage more doctors to enter the medical field, medical group in Texas now claims they never promised having caps would benefit consumers directly. But that was the whole strategy in selling the constitutional amendment to the people as clearly stated by Gov. Rick Perry. He promised the measure would ensure “affordable heath care” in the state. A comprehensive study by Public Citizen published just recently proves the justification for allowing insurance carriers, doctors, hospitals and others to benefit greatly was a great lie.

The Public Citizen study has shown some costs have gone down significantly. Unfortunately, none of the cost savings have been passed on to sick people, the consumers of medical services. The actual study of the numbers taken from state agencies shows in 2010, seven years after the enactment of caps, doctors’ premiums for medical malpractice insurance have dropped more than 50 percent. Studies of insurance payouts on claims for malpractice in Texas are now more than 70 percent lower than they were in 2003. But the cost to patients has not declined 1 percent.

Looking at the licensure in Texas, I notice the rate of doctors moving into Texas since 2003 has actually slowed compared to the numbers prior to 2003. Doctors come to Texas because Texas is one of the most populous states. Another benefit touted as a reason for the caps was to provide more doctors to rural areas. Licensure figures show most of the growth in numbers of doctors coming to Texas is in urban areas, not helping to solve the shortage of medical care in rural areas at all.Although premiums for doctors have declined by more than half, premiums for private health care insurance for ordinary people have risen faster in Texas than the national average. The percentage of Texans who lack health insurance has risen, making Texas No. 1 in something — We have the highest uninsured rate in the country. Per capita increase in the number of doctors practicing in Texas has been slower than previous years and Medicare spending in Texas has risen far faster than the national average.

What the caps have caused in Texas is a considerable amount of suffering and burden on middle class and poor Texans. Since the caps have been placed in 2003, it is virtually impossible for people injured at the hands of a careless doctor to even find an attorney willing to represent them. The Texas Legislature has declared that any non-economic damage in a malpractice case cannot exceed $250,000. In other words, if you don’t have loss of earnings, you are elderly or retired, the most you can possibly obtain from a doctor in a lawsuit for carelessness is $250,000. I have seen numerous elderly people who are victims of poor medical practice theoretically entitled to compensation. An example is an elderly lady who was required to have a hip replacement because a doctor failed to recognize a fracture of her hip on X-rays. The doctor refused to pay when all the lady wanted was enough money to pay for her hip replacement. Filing a lawsuit was not a good option in that after paying for the medical expert required, paying a doctor to testify, paying out-of-pocket for depositions and giving a lawyer a share of the recovery for prosecuting the lawsuit, there would not be enough left to pay for the hip replacement or any for future medical treatment that might be necessary.

Even more egregious is the treatment man whom, through the carelessness of the doctor, was rendered impotent; in fact, part of his body was inadvertently amputated. Since the part of his body amputated had nothing to do with earning money, he was stuck with the value placed on his body parts by the Legislature — $250,000. I know of no healthy male who would have made the trade of his private parts in exchange for $250,000. Yet that’s the value placed on it by representatives and senators in Austin who knew nothing of the facts and had never met the victim.

The second medical myth we hear every day in the United States is that America has the best health care in the world. This is another big lie promoted by medical societies, tort reformers, Republicans seeking office and insurance companies. I will concede the United States probably has the best advancements in medicine: better technology, better-equipped hospitals and perhaps even better trained physicians. However, all of this does not deliver to the vast majority of Americans the best medical care in the world. A new and independent report from a nonprofit group Commonwealth Fund has revealed that in the United States residents die more frequently than their counterparts in other countries. They die of bacterial infections, screenable cancers, diabetes and complications from surgery. As an example, during 2006-07 in the U.S., there were recorded 96 preventable deaths per 100,000 people. France, on the other hand, recorded 55 deaths per 100,000 people. Even Great Britain, most often condemned as an example of socialized medicine, the “boogie man” used by conservative politicians to frighten Americans, had lower mortality rates associated with health care than does the U.S.

There are many elderly adults in the United States who skip medical treatment or go without a prescription because of costs. This was documented in surveys done by nonprofit groups in this country. On average our spending on health care in the United States is more than twice what others in industrial countries spend. To me, all of the combined facts of studies such as those cited above send me the message the great opposition to the Affordable Care Act is more about whose pocket will be affected than the quality of health care for Americans.

Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and spon