The Chronicle still isn't happy with Prop. 12

Recently, Texas Media Watch noted that the Chronicle was less than happy with Proposition 12, medical liability reform:

When medical liability reform was on the ballot last year, the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle adamantly opposed it. In addition to chronically slanted news coverage of the issue, the paper produced twelve editorials during the campaign stressing their opposition. Two days before the vote they wrote:

If Proposition 12 passes in Saturday's statewide election and becomes an amendment to the Texas Constitution, Texans almost certainly will have given up an important constitutional right and consumer protection tool.

In exchange, they will have received a dubious promise about lowering the cost of medical malpractice insurance rates.

Houston Chronicle, 9/11/2003

On Monday, the Houston Business Journal ran a story about a Texas medical insurer cutting its rates:

Austin-based Texas Medical Liability Trust, the largest medical liability insurer in Texas, announced Monday it has cut rates by an additional 5 percent, for a total reduction of 17 percent for the year.

This is the second rate cut this year for TMLT, a physician-owned insurer. In January, the group announced an across-the-board 12 percent rate cut. The additional rate reduction will be effective Jan. 1.

Of Texas' five largest insurers, TMLT is the only one so far that has slashed rates following the Sept. 13, 2003, passage of Proposition 12, legislation that forced insurers to consider adjusting malpractice rates.

TMLT serves 12,000 doctors, representing 48.2 percent of the available physician market in the state.

Since announcing the 12 percent rate cut, TLMT says it has added more than 1,600 new physician policyholders.

In a statement, TMLT said the reduction translates into $34 million in savings for Texas physicians and is the result of a stabilizing medical liability market "made possible by legislative reforms and passage of last year's Proposition 12."

Texas Medical Association President Dr. Bohn D. Allen applauded the move, which he says is evidence that tort reform has proven to be effective in curtailin [sic] "meritless lawsuits."

"Our patients who voted to pass Proposition 12 did so because they wanted their doctors to remain in practice," Allen says. "Now, with this proof, we have to ask why the other insurers are not following suit ... It's time these other insurers acknowledge the value of Prop 12 and slash their unsupportable rates."

On Tuesday, the Chronicle managed to squeeze in, on page B5, an AP story about the lowered rates:

Texas' largest medical liability insurance provider said Monday it will cut its rates by 5 percent starting in January.

The drop by the Texas Medical Liability Trust, or TMLT, comes on top of a 12 percent decrease the company implemented last January, after a new law and state constitutional amendment allowed a cap on jury awards and limited insurance companies' liability.

"If you think about it, that's a 17 percent reduction in rates in just a year, and I think what's more important than that, that's over $34 million of savings to TMLT's Texas physicians in a single year," TMLT president and CEO W. Thomas Cotten said during a Capitol news conference.

TMLT had raised its rates by 147.6 percent between 1999 and 2003, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also attended the news conference and used the occasion to praise the medical malpractice reform law.

Dewhurst said the medical malpractice insurance market has stabilized and 13 new insurance companies have entered the Texas market.

TMLT, however, is the only major company that has reduced rates since the new law was approved. Dan Lambe, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Texas Watch, said that TDI data showed that doctors statewide have seen less than a 4 percent drop in premiums since the bill was approved. That is not the meaningful relief that doctors were promised, Lambe said.

TDI data shows that Texas doctors covered by the top four insurers paid $396 million in total premiums before September 2003 and now pay about $383 million.

First, it's interesting that the Chronicle couldn't manage to send a reporter to the news conference, which was in Austin. The Chronicle does have an Austin bureau and an Austin bureau chief, Clay Robison. Was he too busy penning his next Sunday editorial to attend this announcement? Second, why did the Chronicle pick up that AP story? It was negative in tone and lacked depth, considering it's such an important issue for Texans. The Houston Business Journal reported this in a fairly straightforward way. The Dallas Morning News also had a story on this on Tuesday, which included quotes from both sides, as well as more information and better context overall.

The capitalist in me thinks that if Texas Medical Liability Trust is reducing its rates, then other insurers will have to follow suit or they will have physicians fleeing to TMLT. That's kind of how these things work. But basic economics hasn't been a strong point with Chronicle editors.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 09/21/04 05:39 PM | |

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