May 29, 2014

Texas faced a major turning point in 2003, one that could have seriously jeopardized the economic successes our state has enjoyed over the past decade.

The skyrocketing cost of malpractice insurance – driven ever higher by the mounting costs of litigation and staggering awards in non-economic damages sought by unscrupulous lawyers – was driving many doctors out of business, or causing them to flee to less litigious places.

Not only were doctors leaving the state, or closing up shop, the doctors who did remain in practice were cutting back on providing any treatments that could be considered “high risk.” That left entire counties without emergency treatment doctors, cardiologists or obstetricians.

Texas had fallen to 44th in the nation in terms of doctors per capita.

In addition to being a critical quality of life issue, the situation held the potential of limiting the state’s economic and job growth, as job creators and job seekers alike had to weigh the benefits of the Texas economic climate with the real possibility of losing access to much-needed medical care.

So in 2003, the Texas Legislature passed legislation capping non-economic damages at $250,000 per defendant, or up to $750,000 per incident, while placing no cap on more easily determined economic damages, such as lost wages or cost of medical care due to injury.

Texas ended the practice of allowing baseless, but expensive, lawsuits to drag on indefinitely, requiring plaintiffs to provide expert witness reports to support their claims within four months of filing suit or drop the case. That fall, the people of Texas passed a ballot measure authorizing these changes.

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And things did begin changing, immediately, for the better.

Major insurers cut malpractice insurance rates right after reforms passed, with many of those cuts reaching double-digit rates. Insurers that had fled Texas came back, along with some new ones, helping cut rates through competition.

That meant doctors wanted to practice in Texas again.

In fact, since reforms passed, nearly 42,000 new doctors have applied to be licensed in Texas – with more than 34,000 of those already at work in our hospitals, clinics and private practices.

Many of them are taking on those “high risk” specialties, with Texas nearly doubling its supply of emergency care doctors since 2003.

Nobody has felt the relief more than our rural communities. Since reform:
• 59 rural counties have added at least one emergency medicine physician;
• 31 rural counties have added an obstetrician;
• 24 rural counties have added a cardiologist;
• 17 rural counties have added an orthopedic surgeon;
• 40 rural counties that did not have a single emergency medicine physician in 2003 now do; and
• 15 rural counties that lacked a cardiologist and 13 that lacked an obstetrician now have one.
That’s all good news, both for the people of Texas and for those who care for them.

Common-sense measure like medical tort reform are why Texas continues to be the best place in the nation to live, work, play, raise a family or build a business.

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