Texas Tort Reform Gives Hope to Hawaii Doctors

Rocky Wilcox
Rocky Wilcox
Rep. Tommy Waters
Rep. Tommy Waters

HAWAII STATE CAPITOL (KHNL) --   A Texas attorney who helped bring sweeping changes to health laws in the Lone Star state gives hope to the Aloha state's medical crisis on Wednesday.

"We got a coalition together, worked real hard, and we're fortunate to get some significant tort reforms in 2003," said Rocky Wilcox, a health law attorney from Austin, Texas.

For a second day on Oahu, he shared the dramatic impact tort reform had on the medical community in Texas.

Hawaii lawmakers introduced a medical liability reform bill this session. But Rep. Tommy Waters, the head of the house judiciary committee, refused to hear it because, he said, it's identical to one that failed last session.

Wilcox said it's possible to pass a tort reform law in Hawaii, but that it will be a struggle. He worked on it in Texas for several years, bringing together a deep coalition of doctors, patients, and others affected by his state's doctor shortage problem.

Hawaii has little in common with Texas when it comes to geography or size.  But the biggest continental state faced a doctor shortage problem, similar to the one impacting our tiny state.

"Well, we had a real crisis here in 2001, 2002, and 2003 with increasing premiums, and liability rates going up because of the high awards that were given in Texas," said Wilcox.

He said passing a tort reform bill was an uphill battle because many lawyers are members of the legislature.

Tuesday, Judiciary Committee Chair Tommy Waters (D-Lanikai, Waimanalo, Island of Kaula) said he would not hear a tort reform bill because it is similar to one that failed last session.

"If we pass this bill, will doctors stay in the state in Hawaii?  My conclusion is that no, that it won't have that effect," he said.

But without tort reform, Wilcox said Hawaii is headed down a dangerous path.

"If don't do something, then there's going to be this continued erosion of physicians in this state," said Wilcox.  "And access to care will be diminished and people are going to be harmed because they can't get the care that they need."

Wilcox spoke to lawmakers Wednesday morning, explaining how tort reform revived Texas' ailing health care system.

"The insurance carriers, as a result of that, have been able to reduce premiums significantly," said Wilcox.  "So we've seen a lot of new doctors coming into the state, and holes plugged in terms of specialties that we needed."

But Waters said the bill would take power away from patients.

"If it's doctors versus victims, I'm going to side with the victims one hundred percent of the time," he said.

Still some lawmakers are determined they can help heal Hawaii's medical crisis.

Representative Josh Green (D-Hawaii), who is also an emergency room physician in Kohala, Big Island, hopes to get some sort of support on the senate side to pass a tort reform bill this session.

Wednesday is the deadline for the judiciary committee to hear the tort reform bill.