Rick Perry Overstates Success Of Tort Reform In Recruiting Doctors To Texas

Rick Perry routinely overstates the success of his tort reform initiative in bringing more doctors to Texas, an Associated Press analysis has found. For instance, the governor claims that before his 2003 law — which caps non-economic damages in malpractice lawsuits to $250,000, limits time for filing a cause of action, toughens the standard of proof and raises the bar on qualifying expert witnesses — skyrocketing insurances costs were chasing doctors out of the state. The reform lowered malpractice insurance costs and “licensed more than 23,000 new doctors,” Perry says on the stump. During a recent speech to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation he added, “Pregnant women have better access to OB-GYNs. People in need of trauma care have better access to neurosurgeons and other specialists.”

But Perry’s 23,000 estimate includes 10,000 “who sought licenses in Texas but took jobs elsewhere” and overall, “the increase in physicians in Texas roughly tracked the state’s population growth”:

And the bulk of that influx has come in larger cities where health care was already abundant, leaving large rural swaths of Texas still without doctors…. [M]edical records in Texas show that of the state’s 254 counties, only 106 have an obstetrician/gynecologist — just six more than in 2003. In Presidio County, which has 8,000 residents and is growing, some of Parsons’ patients move 240 miles away to live with relatives in Odessa or Midland when they become pregnant. […]

Medical rolls increased by 24 percent since 2003, while Texas’ population was soaring by 20 percent during the decade. Texas also saw rapid growth of physicians per capita before tort reform, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Part of the challenge Texas faces in recruiting more doctors is its low Medicaid reimbursement rates and state cuts to medical education. This year, lawmakers cut $805 million from doctors serving Medicaid patients and postponed $4 billion in Medicaid costs for payment in the next budget cycle. The latest state budget also included an 8 percent cut in reimbursement rates to hospitals and reduced state support to graduate medical education by almost 40 percent. As a result, more than 5.2 million Texans already live in areas designated as official health professional shortage areas. In fact, Texas ranks 48th out of 50 states in the number of physicians per 100,000 residents.