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Setting the Record Straight on Physician Supply

One of the most common arguments used by those attacking medical malpractice lawsuits and seeking to promote tort reform is the argument that doctors will leave a state if the changes are not made. Similarly, proponents of these laws also suggest that when these laws are passed more doctors will flock to the states that limit the rights of patients to recover losses after they’ve been hurt by medical negligence.

Each Illinois medical malpractice lawyer at our firm knows that the poster child state for this argument is usually Texas. The Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, pointed to his state as an example of this. It was often claimed that physicians came to the state in droves specifically because certain laws were passed to take away legal rights.

Those claims sound nice as a debate talking point, but are they accurate?

Several law professors-including several from Illinois-recently investigated the situation to get real answers to the questions. A summary of the study published this April can be found here at the Center for Justice and Democracy website. The work is incredibly well-thought out, carefully covering all possible avenues to get at the most well-documented answers yet to whether the claims about tort reform and physician supply are true.

The overall takeaway: Tort reform does not increase the supply of physicians in a state.

In Texas, the state passed a range of “tort reform” measures that severely limited the rights of those hurt by medical malpractice in the state. When compared to similar pieces of legislation in other states, the laws were particularly sweeping. The study notes that a key argument in passage of the bill was that the state “was hemorrhaging physicians and that restrictions on lawsuits would stop the bleeding.” Expectedly, following the passage of the bill proponents of the law claimed that it ‘miraculously’ worked just as intended.

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers were interested to read that the study revealed that there were two big problems with that argument. First, the state was not actually losing physicians prior to the passage of the bill. In fact, the state was gaining doctors steadily from 1990 until the law’s passage in 2003. In other words, there was never a real problem in this regard to solve to begin with.

But did the law at least lead to an increase in the number of physicians in the state? This is a bit trickier to pinpoint, because, after all, the state was always adding doctors. Parsing out the effect of the law requires close analysis of the physician levels as well as consideration of all other possible variable which may have affected any change besides the tort reform measures.

Amazingly the study found that, completely contrary to arguments made by reformers, “the rate of increase in Texas DPC physicians per capita was lower after reform.” It is crucial that this reality be shared with more individuals who make arguments about tort reform laws. This is an uphill battle though, because proponents continue to make false and misleading claims.

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