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Tort Reform Doesn’t Grow Doctors

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

It’s one of those things that “everybody knows” — there would be more doctors practicing medicine if it weren’t for all those pesky malpractice suits. And “everybody knows” a sure way to attract doctors to your state is to change the laws to protect doctors from being sued.

Yes, it seems “everybody knows” that. But a new study of tort reform in Texas says it’s not true. Here is the abstract:

“Does state tort reform affect physician supply? Tort reformers certainly believe so. Before Texas adopted tort reform in 2003, proponents claimed that physicians were deserting Texas in droves. After tort reform was enacted, proponents claimed there had been a dramatic increase in physicians moving to Texas due to the improved liability climate. We find no evidence to support either claim. Physician supply was not measurably stunted prior to reform, and did not measurably improve after reform. This is true whether one looks at all patient care physicians in Texas or at high-malpractice-risk specialties.”

In many parts of the country, access to medical care is hampered by physician shortages. This problem is especially acute in poor and rural areas. A few years ago, tort reform advocates began going around to state legislatures and telling them that physician-friendly malpractice laws would attract physicians to their states. By now enough time has gone by that we ought to be seeing results. But there are no results. That hasn’t stopped the lobbyists from insurance companies and physicians organizations to continue to make the argument, however.

Legislators are trading away the rights of citizens to take grievances to court in return for false promises. Any of us might be injured by a doctor, or by a product, or in an unsafe workplace. The most injured, such as people who suffer mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos, really need what damages they might receive to take care of themselves and their families.

The fairy tales about all those grateful doctors flocking to Texas just won’t die. Last year when he was running for the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry claimed that his 2003 tort reform law had attracted more than 20,000 new physicians to Texas.  Other Texas state agencies will tell you doctors are breaking down the doors trying to practice in Texas. Spokespeople for the insurance industry and physicians organization just love Texas tort reform and say it’s the best thing since cell phones.

The the authors of the study — professors David Hyman (Illinois), Charles Silver (Texas), and Bernard Black (Northwestern) have looked at the actual numbers, and they say these claims are just flat-out not true.

“Using active, direct patient-care (DPC) physicians per 100,000 population as a measure, we found no evidence of a pre-2003 decline in access to care, and no evidence of a post-reform improvement. To the contrary, the rate of increase in Texas DPC physicians per capita was lower after reform.”

The full study, “Does Tort Reform Affect Physician Supply? Evidence from Texas,” can be downloaded for free in PDF format.