On its 10th Anniversary, Proposition 12 Draws Cheers, Skepticism

On Sept. 13, 2003, Texans approved Proposition 12, granting the Texas Legislature the authority to cap non-economic damages in healthcare liability cases. On the upcoming 10th anniversary of that approval, Governor Rick Perry lauded the measure Monday, during a speech in the Rio Grande Valley:

“Since Proposition 12 passed 10 years ago, Texas has added more than 30,000 doctors, with significant gains in communities that had been traditionally medically underserved. Over 3,000 new medical licenses have been issued each year for the past seven years, and more than 3,500 over the last two fiscal years. We also set a record for applications, with more than 4,600 applications filed in Fiscal Year 2013.


“I’m continually surprised some people still want to argue the case that tort reform hasn’t worked; they’re swimming upstream against a flood of hard data. Many of the same lawsuit reforms we passed also freed entrepreneurs and employers across our state to worry less about lawsuit abuse and invest fewer resources in defending them. That helped jumpstart an economy that’s produced 3 out of every 10 new jobs created in America over the past decade.


“Again, that’s hard data to quibble with.”

In 2003, Republican politicians, led by Perry, claimed that doctors were providing fewer services to patients because they feared getting sued. Republicans, joined by a “Yes on 12” campaign funded by the health insurance industry, promised that the amendment would lower healthcare costs and bring an influx of doctors to the state. Since 2003, Republicans nationwide have touted Texas as a model for tort reform.

Yet there is evidence that Proposition 12 hasn’t had as great of an effect as Perry touts, and some opponents say it has tipped the balance too heavily in favor of physicians, preventing many patients from even going to court. Since tort reform, some Texas residents have complained that they cannot find a lawyer to pursue malpractice cases because of the $750,000 cap on payouts. The limit often makes litigation cost prohibitive, patients and lawyers told the Austin American-Statesman last year.

Recently, a group of researchers studying Texas Medicare spending found no decrease in doctors’ fees for senior citizens between 2002 and 2009, and Medicare payments to doctors rose 1 to 2 percent faster than the rest of the country, researchers said. In urban and high population counties, the study’s authors expected to see lower healthcare costs due to a reduction in medical tests doctors previously used to protect themselves from lawsuits. However, the researchers found no decrease in costs and a slight increase in medical tests performed.

Still, 10 years later, supporters rally.

“They were totally, completely and undeniably wrong,” said Jon Opelt, executive director of Texas Alliance For Patient Access, a statewide healthcare coalition that lobbied for the passage of Prop 12. “While medical and economic damages remain unlimited, imposition of the cap on pain and suffering has dramatically reduced liability costs for health care providers, increased critical care services for patients, and been a magnet for attracting a record number of new doctors to this state.”


Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.