In 2003, Texas was facing a very real crisis, one that we met with a very specific solution.
The crisis involved a dramatic drop in the number of doctors practicing medicine in our state, as we fell all the way to 44th overall in a national ranking of physicians per capita. Even more concerning, the greatest loss occurred among doctors practicing in high-risk specialties. Patients in dire need were discovering the only doctors in their county that could help them had either left the state or ceased treating their types of ailments.
The prime culprit behind this crisis was skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates that reflected Texas’ then-status as a lawsuit haven.
To remedy this, we took the bold step of instituting tort reforms to limit lawsuit abuse and bring malpractice insurance rates down to a manageable level.
And it was an overwhelming success.
We said if reforms became law, doctors would start working in emergency rooms again, and they have. We said doctors would again choose to treat the most sick and injured patients, and they have. We said more high-risk specialists would be available to treat the public, and they are. We said we would be able to recruit much-needed specialists to our state, particularly in rural areas, and we have.
This was all great news for Texans who needed medical care, as well as the men and women providing it; it wasn’t good news for trial lawyers. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the trial lawyer lobby will do anything to paint our reforms in a bad light. And that’s precisely what prompted a recent report by Charles Silver, a UT professor with deep and extensive ties to the trial lawyer industry. His report is a mix of smoke and mirrors and statistical sleight-of-hand, specifically designed to obscure the success story of tort reform in Texas.
This report is particularly troubling because it effectively disregards the very real physician crisis we were facing, and the pain and hassles it caused Texas patients who needed cardiologists, obstetricians, or even emergency room care. Between 2001-2003, the high point of our physician crisis, 99 Texas counties lost at least one high-risk practitioner. That number, by the way, was fairly divided between rural counties (52 losses) and urban counties (47).
Even doctors who hadn’t left the state or the business had made necessary changes to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits, and as a consequence, Texans lost even more access to valuable care. During the two years prior to our reforms, 5,001 high-risk specialists limited their practice to less hazardous cases, meaning only 5,674 of 10,675 licensed high-risk specialists were actually providing a full range of services to patients.
In short, Texans were finding fewer and fewer doctors to treat them when they needed expert care the most.
Passing tort reform reversed that trend. According to Texas Department of Insurance data, malpractice insurance rates have plunged more than 30 percent since passage, with some of the top insurers slashing rates more than 40 percent. As a result, Texas Medical Board data shows the state added 11,941 physicians since May 2003, a 31.3 percent surge, well above our population growth rate of 17 percent over that span. High-risk specialists are a big part of that trend, with their numbers growing more than twice as fast as the state’s population, and the number of pediatric sub-specialists growing at a rate 10 times faster.
Where Texas once ranked 44th in physicians per capita, today we rank 20th, despite our rapidly-expanding population.
That means today, more doctors are in Texas emergency rooms, operating rooms and clinics, saving lives in counties large and small.
Silver’s report wasn’t the first to try to obscure the facts on tort reform, and likely won’t be the last. But the bottom line is, tort reform in Texas did precisely what it was designed to do. And that means better health care for all of us.