Informed choices-the other side of the story on Tort reform by Toni Rose, Co-Founder An American Speaks
In 1987 I had a baby girl in Houston, Texas. She was born a month early, and despite complications, she was delivered at a little over five pounds.
We were lucky at that time in Texas because we lived in Houston, home of one of the greatest medical centers in the world. But Texas had a problem. Texas had a doctor shortage, especially in high risk services such as labor and delivery, neurosurgery and trauma. It had been a problem a long time. I remember my Mom, pregnant with my little brother in a beach community on the Gulf Coast, had to drive to a ferry, cross over to Galveston, and then drive to the hospital to see her ob-gyn and deliver her son. The trip took an hour and a half on a good day.
More than 150 counties had no local obstetrics care, and services were sometimes more than 100 miles away. Physicians were leaving Texas for states that were less litigious or they were quitting medical practice altogether.
By 2003 the exodus of doctors was such a crisis the state of Texas initiated, and passed, tort reform to rein in the the cost of practicing medicine. The landmark reforms created an almost immediate turnaround, starting with pediatric subspecialties increasing 300% in the following ten years.
Emergency doctors in rural areas increased 64%, more than 10 times the growth in those areas. Thirty-five rural counties added at least one ob-gyn, almost half of which never had one. You can find similar stories in more than 30 states that have implemented tort reform.
Issue 1 allows voters in Arkansas to attract more much-needed doctors and health care professionals to our state.
As the co-founder of the conservative Christian organization, An American Speaks, I know first-hand providing no access to needed health services places a value on human life. The value is zero.
In 2012 Mrs. Laurie Wilhelm of rural AR, had enjoyed home births of her previous children, but she started bleeding heavily during the birth of the baby she was carrying at the time. She was rushed to the beautiful new birthing center at the nearby hospital.
The hospital had no ob-gyn on staff. Administrators had been unable to attract or keep the needed doctor because liabilities to practice were too high.
Perhaps if they had she may have been sent her to the better equipped and staffed hospital in Missouri, 80 miles away, by air rather than ambulance.
Laurie bled to death.
Ironically, and more recently, one of the primary sponsors of this bill could have been another victim of rural ob-gyn shortages. His wife’s uterus ruptured, she was bleeding internally and the baby was in severe distress. Fortunately, after having birthed several babies at home, they had made arrangements to have this baby in Rogers, AR. 45 minutes away and were already at the hospital when it occurred, saving the life of mom and her baby girl. Sadly, to highlight the seriousness of the need for immediate care, an Oklahoma youth pastor’s wife and baby did not fare as well with their similar situation and both died.
A great champion of the unborn and friend of mine, makes the assertion that tort reform is a pro-life issue. In this case I agree. Laurie Wilhelm, Jessica and their babies prove it.I personally prefer to keep the term “pro-life” with the rights of the unborn. Many issues could be called “pro-life” but let our unborn babies have this one distinction. However, just like our unborn children need care, so, too, do our vulnerable seniors in assisted living and long-term care nursing facilities. These places are home for thousands of Arkansans.
Thousands of women and their unborn children in rural Arkansas are at risk due to the lack of care and the many miles to an ob-gyn, whether a family plans a hospital birth or not.
“Ob/gyns live in fear of being sued,” Jones says. She isn’t kidding: Ob/gyns are the most commonly sued physicians. A 2012 survey from the American Medical Association found that of the approximately 4,000 medical liability lawsuits filed between 2009 and 2011, a full two-thirds involved obstetric care. It’s because of these figures that malpractice insurance is quite high for ob/gyns compared to other practitioners. This not only makes it very expensive to even open an ob/gyn practice, but also harder to recruit more medical students into the profession.
Malpractice reform on the federal level would help, ob/gyns say. A bill passed the House of Representatives in June that would limit noneconomic damages for a malpractice case to $250,000. While some criticize that cap as unfair to patients whose lives have been forever changed by medical malpractice, the American Medical Association president David Barbe called it an “important first step.”
“By redirecting health care spending from defensive medicine, additional dollars can go to patient care, safety and quality improvements, and to health information technology systems that would help improve care and outcomes,” he said in a statement.”
My grandmother lived in a nursing home. My dad spent the last year of his life in a nursing home. My mother is in an assisted living facility. I understand this – spending an extraordinary amount of resources on liability insurance does not help my mother’s facility hire more compassionate caregivers. The money spent on attorneys doesn’t help hire more nurses who are needed throughout the state.
In overall health care, Arkansas ranks 49th of 50 states. Money that could be spent on needed doctors, needed caregivers in hospitals, needed rehabilitation facilities, needed clinics and needed nursing homes is not going toward these things. Funds to improve quality of life often aren’t going where they are needed most, not because the desire to do so isn’t there, but because the requirement to pay exorbitant amounts for insurance is the expensive cost of providing care to those who need it most.
Answer this question: currently in Arkansas you can sue for an un-capped amount, virtually anything you, your attorney and a judge can agree on. How has this helped Arkansas health care ranking? We are the last of the last. Time to consider what has worked in other states, not as the only solution but part of the solution.
An excellent research paper by the Heritage Foundation on the impact of tort reform in Texas can be found at Ten Years of Tort Reform Texas Just one example they cite:
- CHRISTUS Health, a not-for-profit Catholic health system with hospitals throughout Texas, saved so much on its liability costs that it expanded its charity care by $100 million per year starting in 2004. Total cost-basis charity care in Texas was $594 million greater in 2006 than it was in 2003. Sister Michele O’Brien of CHRISTUS stated that the expanded charity care is a direct result of the lawsuit reforms
I can cite study after study that shows that exorbitant medical liability costs has harmed patient care. Another one can be found at Does Malpractice Insurance Cost Impact Patient Care
Our organization, An American Speaks, with its mission to protect family values, wholesome communities by raising the conservative Christian voice, strongly supports Issue 1 on the ballot in November. By making Arkansas more inviting to health care professionals our chances are better the next Laurie Wilhelm and her baby have a doctor waiting when she arrives at the hospital. Please inform yourself for the vote in November.
To learn more about An American Speaks, please visit www.anamericanspeaks.com and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. To learn more about Tort reform and it’s impact on other states visit Arkansans For Jobs and Justice Facebook