Anniversary of Proposition 12 marked by record number of new Texas physicians

The SE Texas Record Sep. 11, 2007, 6:42am

From Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

In anticipation of the fourth anniversary of Proposition 12, the Texas constitutional amendment to help curb health care lawsuit abuse in Texas that took effect Sept. 13, 2003, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) noted dramatically expanded health care and a record number of new physicians now treating Texans.

"Proposition 12 is delivering on its promise to improve health care for all Texans by keeping doctors where they belong: in the examining room," said Bill Summers, president and founder of CALA of the Rio Grande Valley. "Rampant litigation forced highly qualified doctors to close their doors and left many Texas communities without the physicians and specialists they needed. Prop 12 was a shot in the arm of common sense that our court system � and health care system � needed."

Kirsten Voinis, spokesperson for CALA of Central Texas, described the successful balance achieved by Prop 12.

"Prop 12 ensures that patients who have been injured receive the justice they deserve without having to wait in line behind a slew of questionable lawsuits," Voinis said. "At the same time, reforms are balancing justice with our need to continue pursuing medical innovations and treatments that can benefit millions."

The exploding number of new physicians now practicing in Texas is tangible evidence that reforms are working, according to Summers. Since the passage of Prop 12, Texas has experienced record growth in the number of new physicians in the state -- licensing 10,800 physicians in the last four years and a record 3,324 new doctors this year, according to the Texas Alliance for Patient Access (TAPA).

And after years of decline, the ranks of medical specialists is growing, including 186 obstetricians, 156 orthopedic surgeons, and 26 neurosurgeons, including one each in the medically underserved communities of Corpus Christi and Beaumont. And the statewide total of pediatric intensive care, pediatric emergency medicine and pediatric infectious disease specialists is set to double, according to TAPA.

Even in historically underserved areas like the Rio Grande Valley, the ranks of physicians are growing. The number of physicians in Hidalgo County has increased by 17.97 percent; Cameron County physicians increased by 16.2 percent. Both counties outpaced the state growth rate of 15.68 percent.

"Before Prop 12, medical specialists were scarce in the Valley," said Summers. "Now the Valley is home to more doctors to take care of our children and families including 20 pediatricians, 19 family physicians, nine internists, nine obstetricians and eight gastroenterologists as well as five cardiologists, a neurosurgeon and a host of pediatric specialists where previously the Valley had none. Gone are the days when a Valley resident has to drive hours to receive specialized care."

Cameron County has added 72 new doctors, including two cancer specialists, 10 pediatricians, four cardiologists, four emergency room physicians, three obstetricians, 15 family physicians and nine internists, according to TAPA.

Nueces County is also enjoying a host of new doctors and has rebounded from a net loss of 15 physicians to a gain of 39 new doctors in the past three years including 10 pediatricians, eight emergency room doctors, seven family practitioners, six kidney specialists, four cardiologists and several pediatric specialists, according to TAPA.

The growth of practicing physicians in a post-reform Texas is statewide. Other key communities report significant growth in the number of doctors serving the community, including San Antonio (55 percent growth), Houston (36 percent growth) and El Paso (76 percent growth), according to TAPA.

Connie Scott, executive director of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, noted that the successes of Prop 12 don't stop at the doctor's office.

"Our reforms have allowed hospitals to invest in equipment upgrades, expand their emergency rooms, launch new and innovative patient safety programs and expand their charity care," Scott said. "The successes of Prop 12 reach far and wide into the medical care we all expect and deserve in Texas."

According to TAPA, CHRISTUS Spohns' Westside Corpus Christi clinic serving the indigent and its Diabetes Excellent Program are both funded by the hospital's medical liability savings; and Driscoll Children's Hospital, also in Corpus Christi, used liability savings to open satellite clinics in Brownsville and McAllen.

In Houston, Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, which treats 1.1 million patient visits a year, invested $20 million from liability savings into an electronic medical record system designed to reduce medical errors, monitor for medication allergies and alert prescribing physicians about drug interactions, according to TAPA.

Diane Davis, executive director of East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, cautioned, "The success of Prop 12 in increasing access to health care is tempered by a disturbing trend among some personal injury lawyers. Prop 12 went far in sealing the valve on the medical liability lawsuit gravy train. But like a cold you can't shake, some lawyers are simply looking for new ways to sue. Lawsuits continue to threaten our health care system and our vigilance never expires."

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