Why Doctors Are Heading for Texas

Normally I write about Healthcare IT but today’s Why Doctors Are Heading for Texas article in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention. Here’s why:

Today obstetricians, surgeons and other doctors might consider reviving the practice. Over the past three years, some 7,000 M.D.s have flooded into Texas, many from Tennessee.
[Why Doctors Are Heading for Texas]
Corbis
Sam Houston.

Why? Two words: Tort reform.

In 2003 and in 2005, Texas enacted a series of reforms to the state’s civil justice system. They are stunning in their success. Texas Medical Liability Trust, one of the largest malpractice insurance companies in the state, has slashed its premiums by 35%, saving doctors some $217 million over four years. There is also a competitive malpractice insurance industry in Texas, with over 30 companies competing for business. This is driving rates down.

The result is an influx of doctors so great that recently the State Board of Medical Examiners couldn’t process all the new medical-license applications quickly enough. The board faced a backlog of 3,000 applications. To handle the extra workload, the legislature rushed through an emergency appropriation last year.

Now many of the newly arriving doctors are heading to rural or underserved parts of the state. Four new anesthesiologists have headed to Beaumont, for example. Meanwhile, San Antonio has experienced a 52% growth in the number of new doctors.

The article goes on to cite many other benefits of tort reform in Texas, especially in Asbestos cases. It’s a great example of how a simple change in the rules governing physicians and malpractice can fix problems like:

  • Lack of medical professionals (Doctors want to practice in a state where medicine is more important than lawyers)
  • High healthcare costs (when malpractice insurance premiums go down, so do healthcare costs)
  • Availability of healthcare support for charity care (when healthcare costs go down, hospitals can afford to do more charity work)

I grew up in Houston, TX but now live in Washington DC. I still have fond memories of Texas and really do enjoy seeing stories like this. Perhaps some of the presidential candidates should increase their support of tort reform.

I loved what the author, Mr. Nixon, said at the end of the article:

Texas recently became home to more Fortune 500 companies than New York and California. Things are trending well for the Lone Star State. Anecdotally, we can see that while doctors are moving in, trial lawyers are packing up and heading west. They’re GTC — Gone to California.

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3 thoughts on “Why Doctors Are Heading for Texas

  1. Hmm,

    I’d take that opinion piece with a texas-sized grain of salt.

    First, it offers no comparison numbers for the increase in doctors nationwide.

    Second, it ties the increase in texas, without any proof, to a single cause: tort reform. One should consider a host of other factors like quality of life, programs that offer financial offset of medical school expenses for doctors willing to practice in underserved areas, wages, etc. After determining the impact of each of those other possibilities on the decision for a physician to practice in texas then we can compare the actual overall effect of tort reform. It may be significant, it may not.

    Third, in other states in which med malpractice caps have been declared unconstitutional the effect of this change has had little if any effect on the rate of active doctors. For example, in oregon, in which a 500k cap in tort reform was declared unconstitutional, the number of active doctors increased at the same rate during the four years before and after the damages cap were overruled, according to the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners. “The number of active doctors in Oregon rose 11.9 percent from 2000 to 2004, compared to 12 percent from 1995 to 1999,” the years when the cap was in place. “There were 8,388 physicians practicing in Oregon in 2000 and 9,382 in 2004—an increase of 994, or 11.9 percent. By comparison, the number of physicians practicing in Oregon grew from 7,517 in 1995 to 8,416 in 1999, an increase of 899, or 12 percent.”

    Here’s a counter argument to both tort reform proponents and those who oppose it:

    http://writ.news.findlaw.com/sebok/20071009.html

    /r

  2. Oh please.
    I just returned form an interview at Social Securty with my physcially and learnind disabled son It will take a full year for him to be approved for benefits and then these will be meager–not nearly enough to afford him a life with dignitiy — a place to leave and good healtcare

    Tort reform fixes one piece of the broken US medical and social services system
    Maybe we need to consider why Drs and hospitals make so many errors leading to the need for these suits
    This factoid only reinforces the need for a federal solution to healthcare and social services and medical malpractice oversight and laws
    If all people who were injured or disabled either due to Dr negligence ,error or just plain bad luck were guarenteed a life of dignity where their basic needs for housing and medical care were met, then they would not need or see large setttlements.
    think this is not possible—- vist any other developed countries ( donlt rely on what you read in the papers and you will that the US is out of synch –If your knee jerk response is that this is socializm, well them maybe we need a dose of of it –whatever it is .

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