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Commentary

Prodigal State
Newt Gingrich, Wall Street Journal, 5-4-06

As medical malpractice reforms are debated in the U.S. Senate, Gingrich looks to Texas for a model of how targeted reforms can help improve health care access and affordability.

In the summer of 2003 the Texas legislature enacted important medical litigation reform. A voter–approved constitutional amendment, Proposition 12, followed later that year to solidify the changes. As a result, physicians are returning to the state, particularly in underserved specialties and counties. Insurance premiums to protect against frivolous lawsuits have declined dramatically, with the state's largest carrier reporting declines up to 22% and other carriers reducing premiums by an average of 13%. The number of lawsuits filed against doctors has been cut almost in half.

Prior to the successful reform effort, personal injury lawyers had put Texas doctors on the run. According to the Texas Department of Insurance, the frequency of claims was increasing at a rate of 4.6% annually—between 1996 and 2000 alone, one out of four doctors was sued...

So what has happened since September of 2003, when the new law went into effect? After years of losing doctors, Texas has added nearly 4,000 since passage of Proposition 12, including 127 orthopedic surgeons, almost 300 anesthesiologists, over 200 emergency room physicians, 146 new obstetricians, 58 neurologists and 24 neurosurgeons. The Texas Medical Board is anticipating some 4,000 applicants for new physician licenses this year alone—double last year's numbers, and 30% more than the greatest growth year ever.

The threat of lawsuits has been a particular barrier to attracting and retaining pediatric specialists. Since 2003, Texas has gained 20 pediatric cardiologists, 14 pediatric oncologists, almost 50 new perinatologists (obstetricians specializing in high-risk pregnancies), 10 pediatric surgeons and 8 new pediatric endocrinologists.

Medically underserved counties in Texas are benefiting as well. Jefferson, Webb and Victoria Counties, as well as the counties of Cameron and Hidalgo in the Rio Grande Valley, have all experienced an influx of physicians. Additionally, the market for insurance to protect health-care providers against the cost of lawsuits has become more robust and competitive. In 2002 there were only four companies writing policies. Today that number has more than tripled. And all of these trends are expected to continue.



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