Doctor Gaps in Texas Persist Despite Perry’s Stats


It’s no great surprise to many of us that the medical malpractice “tort reform” legislation of several years ago has not brought about the benefits promised by its supporters, such as the big insurance companies. One of those benefits was supposed to be more physicians in under-served areas of the state. But this simply has not happened, as reported by the Associated Press. Here are excerpts from the article:

Presidio County is bigger than Delaware and has just one practicing physician who doesn’t deliver babies or treat emergencies. It’s the kind of underserved region that Gov. Rick Perry suggested would benefit when he proposed a crackdown on medical malpractice lawsuits in 2003.

Now running for president, Perry says his tort reform plan proved the wisdom of his business-friendly policies by expanding health care across the state.

Yet none of the 23,000 doctors Perry says Texas has newly licensed have come this way.

“Some patients, when they find out they’re pregnant, bam — they’re out of here,” said Dr. Darrell Parsons, whose practice in Presidio is just across the Rio Grande from Ojinaga, Mexico.

An analysis of Perry’s tort reform initiative in Texas reveals a more complicated bottom line than his campaign rhetoric on the issue would suggest. State medical data show that the number of physicians practicing in Texas has increased since the initiative passed in 2003, though by considerably less than the total Perry cites. And the bulk of that influx has come in larger cities where health care was already abundant, leaving large rural swaths of Texas still without doctors.

Discussing his malpractice reforms in a speech in Georgia in September, Perry said, “Pregnant women have better access to OB-GYNs. People in need of trauma care have better access to neurosurgeons and other specialists. That’s what tort reform is really all about. About how to give better access to the people of my home state. We need to spread lawsuit reform across all economic sectors of this country.”

However, medical records in Texas show that of the state’s 254 counties, only 106 have an obstetrician/gynecologist — just six more than in 2003. In Presidio County, which has 8,000 residents and is growing, some of Parsons’ patients move 240 miles away to live with relatives in Odessa or Midland when they become pregnant.

Overall, the increase in physicians in Texas roughly tracked the state’s population growth. Medical rolls increased by 24 percent since 2003, while Texas’ population was soaring by 20 percent during the decade. Texas also saw rapid growth of physicians per capita before tort reform, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The statistic Perry most often cites — 23,000 newly licensed doctors after tort reform — includes about 10,000 who sought licenses in Texas but took jobs elsewhere and physicians practicing telemedicine in other states.

Perry made access to health care a major argument for tort reform in the initiative’s advertising campaign in 2003, saying the state was hemorrhaging doctors because of lawsuits and malpractice insurance costs. The ballot issue, Proposition 12, became the most expensive campaign ever waged to amend the Texas Constitution. More than $15 million was spent in the showdown between trial lawyers and health care interests.

In a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation that year, Perry told a New York audience how three out of five Texas counties lacked an obstetrician.

“That’s a hardship for many pregnant women in certain areas of our state, but especially women with high-risk pregnancies,” Perry said.

Eight years later, that ratio is the same.

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