www.SickOfLawsuits.org Web Chat
Texas Governor Rick Perry
March 23, 2005, 1 pm ET
Governor Perry: Good Afternoon. I'd like to start today by thanking Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and www.SickofLawsuits.org for hosting this web chat. As many of us have seen firsthand, questionable lawsuits drive up the cost of health care, threaten access to doctors, hospitals and life-saving medications, and discourage medical innovation. Frivolous lawsuits also force employers to invest resources in defense costs instead of growth…job growth and business growth. Two years ago we drew a definite line in the sand. We passed a cap on non-economic damages in medical liability cases, and we are beginning to see doctors insurance rates decline, hospital rates decline and patient access improve.
Theresa: Are the medical liability reforms in Texas working?
Governor Perry: Yes. Reforms passed by legislators and voters are now a model for the nation. Since these changes were enacted, Texas patients are experiencing better access to health care. Underserved communities are recruiting new physicians, liability costs are down significantly for many hospitals and doctors, and health care lawsuits have declined dramatically. And the prognosis for continued improvement will be even better once the courts weed through the avalanche of lawsuits filed just before the new law took effect on Sept. 1, 2003. Just this month, the Texas Medical Liability Insurance Underwriting Association announced its cutting rates for physicians by 10 percent beginning April 1.
Arnold from Austin: If current reforms are working, why are more reforms needed?
Governor Perry: Take asbestos for example. We're still trying to get the playing field level between plaintiffs' lawyers and employers and doctors. Today the courts are flooded with cases of people who have been exposed to asbestos but who are not sick. I want to make sure awards are available to those who are truly harmed by asbestos, and make sure those individuals get to the front of the line. We need to continue to be diligent to fight frivolous suits on all fronts.
Katie2005: Will more reform make it too difficult for people who are legitimately harmed to get help?
Governor Perry: No. Stopping lawsuit abuse will lessen the burden on our courts and help ensure that patients who have been injured are fairly compensated without having the compensation they deserve siphoned away by a personal injury lawyer and uninjured plaintiffs who are looking to cash in. In Texas you still have access to economic damages like lost wages and medical expenses...just not unlimited, subjective awards called non-economic damages. In fact, this makes the case for asbestos reform. We want those who are truly harmed to get access to damages by taking people out of the system who show no signs of harm.
Jim: I'm concerned about how lawsuits may affect my state and my health care. What can the average person do to bring attention to this problem and make sure we don't wind up in a crisis situation?
Governor Perry: Become involved. Join your state's legal reform movement or help form your own. Contact your state and federal lawmakers about the need for change. Real change occurs at the grassroots level. In a decade's time, we have turned the tide with persistent appeals to common sense reform. We had some early successes, and then in 2003 we had a breakthrough year in reforming our legal system. But the trials are worthy adversaries, and they are always looking for the next avenue to strike it rich, and we just have to make sure it isn't by filing frivolous suits.
Sarah Jane: A recent study questions whether medical liability reform in Texas was really needed. The study found no evidence linking soaring insurance premiums to the number of lawsuits. How do you respond to critics of the reform?
Governor Perry: I appreciate that question because I think there are some misconceptions. A number of flaws have been found in the paper you mention. For example, during the height of the medical liability crisis in Texas, the vast majority of claims against docs ended with no finding of wrongdoing and no payment made to the plaintiff. Nonetheless, even meritless cases cost money to defend. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to defend against these cases that were either dismissed or resulted in no payment to the plaintiff. Yet the law professor's paper fails to take this into account - and even they admit this.
Tony: What lessons do you think Congress can learn from Texas?
Governor Perry: Congress can always learn lessons from Texas. We do things bigger, better and first. But enough of the Texas bragging. There are a good many Members of Congress who understand fully the need to reform health care liability laws. For those who don't, I would say that special interests speak with a loud voice, but it is the quiet voice of everyday Americans that must be heard. The key to this issue is reminding the public it is about THEIR access to health care. A trial lawyer can't operate on your loved one if all the docs leave the operating rooms. You also must have swift sanctions against the few bad apples out there in the medical profession.
Ramon Sanchez: Governor, I own a small courier business in San Jose and I would love to give my employees better health benefits, but the cost of health insurance is rising -- and I just can't afford it. What can I do in California that you have accomplished in Texas?
Governor Perry: This is a difficult issue, Ramon. Liability reform is key, but so is a focus on making employer-sponsored health insurance. In Texas, we have twice as many children on public insurance than we did six years ago. Meanwhile, employers (especially small businesses) are dropping insurance plans. We recently passed laws to remove mandates in health plans that are helping to make plans up to 30 percent cheaper. We also are allowing small business to co-op together to get better market leverage. And a key reform President Bush signed into law -- Health Savings Accounts that put consumers back in charge of health care decisions. Part and parcel to this is keeping the cost of medical care down.
Fred Harrison: Thanks for being part of this, Governor. I have to ask you -- given that the Democratic Party is so heavily funded by trial lawyers, do you feel that there is a political risk to taking on the topic of lawsuit abuse?
Governor Perry: Sure...leadership requires taking positions, and sometimes brings out opponents (well-funded ones who write big checks). But I live by the motto of Sam Houston: "Do right and risk consequences." And a lot of Democrats did that last session by voting for lawsuit reforms because they saw patients losing access to care.
Texas Times: Governor, how much money has the legal industry spent on lobbying against reform, and how many of the flawed studies mentioned above are the result of this expenditure of resources by the legal lobby?
Governor Perry: They spent close to $12 million just trying to defeat Prop 12. Fortunately border communities turned out in support, and we passed it by a narrow margin, ensuring major lawsuit reforms that will forever change Texas.
Governor Perry: Let me close by saying thank you to all who submitted questions...sorry I couldn't get to them all. If you are not already a www.Sickoflawsuits.org supporter, consider it. We still have about 20 states in a health care crisis in large because of the legal climate. Lawsuit abuse is a real problem. We're doing our part in Texas to improve the situation, but all of America needs comprehensive reforms that put patients and doctors back in control of decisions that affect patient health. Thanks.