By Dr. Thomas Wilder
You could almost set your watch to the intervals when people who oppose smart, common-sense legal reforms release "reports" that rely on doctored data to back up their narrow view that legal reforms have been bad for health care in Texas. But the benefits of civil justice reform are undeniable.
Today, as a result of the landmark reforms approved by Texas voters, we can definitively say the Lone Star State has more physicians per capita than ever before. Even if you use the most conservative statistics available, Texas has added enough direct care physicians since 2003 to provide 6.4 million more patient visits than would have occurred without these reforms.
In all, more than 20,000 physicians have been licensed to practice in Texas since 2003, many of whom came here because of our reformed legal climate. The numbers are astounding and represent a great improvement in health care access.
During the peak of the lawsuit abuse crisis in Texas, many patients went without access to critical health care services. Mothers traveled hundreds of miles to deliver their babies. Patients with heart conditions were forced to brave long trips to the closest cardiologist. Trauma patients were too often without resources as critical minutes ticked by. Medical liability reform changed these harsh realities for thousands of Texans.
And after years of decline, the ranks of medical specialists in Texas are growing. Just in the last six years, Texas has added 218 obstetricians, and the number of obstetricians practicing in rural Texas has grown by 27 percent.
The number of orthopedists has grown by 15 percent, and Texas added 48 neurosurgeons. The statewide number of pediatric specialists and geriatricians has doubled in the past five years after showing virtually no growth in two years preceding reform. Emergency services have also expanded with 23 counties adding at least one emergency medicine physician and 18 counties adding their first ER doctor...ever.
Physicians aren't the only providers affected. Smart reforms here have allowed hospitals to re-invest their liability savings to expand services, improve patient care and increase charity care in their local communities.
Our reform story is considered a model for the nation. In fact, as health care costs spiral out of control across the country, others are demanding Texas-style reforms as part of overall changes to our health care system.
A recent report in Oregon noted that "If medical guidelines had been in place to protect doctors against liability, more than $93 million could have been saved in 2008" in that state alone.
Other states have similar stories, and leaders are continuing to push for changes at the national level.
Dr. Nicholas Pandelidis, in The York Daily News, recently noted a 2009 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which estimated that a federal package of tort reform, including a cap on non-economic damages, would decrease federal health-care outlays by $54 billion over 10 years.
Adding his voice to the call for federal reforms, Peter Camel, president of the American Medical Association, in mid-October, noted, "Reforming the costly and inefficient medical liability system with proven solutions will save taxpayers money."
We are blessed in Texas with leaders who had the foresight and political will to support common-sense changes that are working for Texas. The numbers are indisputable, and the national acclaim is steady and warranted.
But as civil justice issues continue to draw the ire of relentless opponents of common-sense reforms, we can only hope that the personal injury lawyer attack agenda is revealed for what it really is: a self-serving effort to undermine the smart reforms that have curbed the litigation lottery in Texas.
Dr. Thomas Wilder is a partner of Corpus Christi Women's Clinic and a board member of the Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.