Texas gets cured

The SE Texas Record Jul. 14, 2007, 5:46am

Four years after instituting sweeping medical malpractice lawsuit reforms, Texas has gone from a doctor shortage to a doctor surplus.

That's according to an Associated Press report published last week. It details the growing backlog at the Texas Medical Board, which licenses doctors in the Lone Star State. Some 2,400 doctors are waiting for the state to process their applications so they can start practicing medicine. According to the AP, Texas received some 4,000 applications from doctors in 2006, up from 2,992 in 2005.

It's a nice problem to have.

Consider that five years ago this summer, Beaumont neurosurgeon Dr. Mark Kubala was in Chicago warning of his own looming extinction.

At a national conference of the American Medical Association, Kubala spoke of the tragic consequences wrought by Southeast Texas' scarcity of surgeons. He explained that patients were being shipped to Houston and Galveston during half the month, when no surgeon was available in Jefferson County. He told the story of an elderly head trauma patient who lapsed into a coma and died while he waited for an operation.

To blame, said Kubala and others, were soaring medical malpractice insurance rates, driven higher by a surge in lawsuits. Doctors didn't want to practice in Texas anymore because it was plain too expensive.

What happened next is worth remembering the next time you feel cynical about politics. The legislature took steps to make it cheaper, and they worked.

Our state leaders effectively lowered the cost of medical malpractice insurance 20 percent by capping the awards for "non-economic" damages that lawyers could win against doctors. Runaway verdicts became a thing of the past. The medical malpractice lawsuit surge stopped, and a stream of doctors started.

Now Texas has emerged as one of the hottest places in the country to practice medicine.

Politicians always promise dramatic results for their big ideas. Here's a case where they actually delivered.

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