|WESLACO, September 12 - Ten years ago, in some parts of Texas, women had to drive across counties to find a doctor to deliver their babies.
Ten years ago, if you suffered a head trauma in Austin, you ran the risk of having to be transported to San Antonio for treatment because Austin’s emergency room didn’t have a neurosurgeon on call.
Ten years ago, doctors in Texas, and patients, were facing a crisis.
Costly and often baseless litigation forced physicians to limit their practices or shut their doors altogether. Hospitals spent increasing amounts for lawsuits rather than investing in patient care.
Excessive awards, abusive lawsuits and uneven rulings from our courts were bad for health care in Texas. From 1995 to 2002, in fact, claims against Texas doctors occurred at nearly twice the national average.
Voters had to stop this trend, and they did.
Ten years ago, voters transformed the civil lawsuit landscape with the passage of landmark legal reforms, championed by Texas Governor Rick Perry and local leaders like Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Bill Summers.
A voter-approved cap on damage awards brought sanity to our civil court system and ensured better access to our courts for their legitimate claims and an improved health care system for our state.
The success of that reform in Texas cannot be denied.
Today, Texas is a state where physicians want to practice and our hospitals are able to invest liability savings into patient care, safety programs and charity care.
In 2001, according to data from the Texas Medical Board, our state licensed approximately 2,000 new doctors. Since the passage of Prop 12 in 2003, Texas has experienced record growth in the number of new physicians in the state -- licensing more than 28,000 physicians since 2003.
The total number of active physicians per capita grew twice as fast in the years after Prop 12 was passed (2004-2012) as it did during the seven years prior to lawsuit reforms (1995-2002).
The number of high-risk specialists practicing in Texas is growing twice as fast as the state’s population, and the growth of practicing specialists is not limited to big cities. Thirty-six Texas counties that nine years ago did not have an emergency medicine doctor now have one.
Twenty-nine of those counties are rural. Moreover, fifteen rural counties have gained their first cardiologist, and five rural counties have their first orthopedic surgeon.
This is great news for Texans: more doctors means greater access to care for Texas patients. It’s important to remember that at the height of the liability crisis in Texas, many patients went without access to critical health care services. Lawsuit reforms changed these harsh realities in Texas.
Groups of every day citizens – families, small business owners and local elected officials – stood up and spoke out in favor of reform. Organizations like Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse are the foundation for the larger movement that has worked tirelessly to improve the business and economic climates in Texas.
Today, a decade after voters passed Prop 12, the Texas reform story is considered a model for the nation. After ten years, it really is impressive to see just how far we’ve come.
Progress didn’t come easy, and each year, opponents of Prop 12 renew their fight against it. That’s why we must make sure we protect the reforms that have improved access to care for so many Texans.
Febe Zepeda is executive director with the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA). CALA, which was launched in the Valley, is a grassroots movement of people concerned that lawsuit abuse hurts Texas families and Texas employers and can ultimately cost jobs and limit access to all types of goods and services.