It’s a way of life in much of rural Texas, where a shortage of doctors and obstetricians means that residents must often rely on volunteer paramedics during the sometimes-harrowing drive to the hospital. And it doesn’t appear likely to change anytime soon.
Although Texas is being held up as a national example of success in limiting medical malpractice damages — with a 51 percent increase in new doctors and a 27 percent drop in malpractice insurance rates since a law went into effect in 2003 — the impact on consumers has been far less clear.
The number of new doctors in family practice, the area most in demand, has increased by only about 200, about 16 percent, and more than 130 counties still did not have an obstetrician or gynecologist as of October, according to a Star-Telegram analysis of licensing data from the Texas Medical Board.
At the same time, the number of specialists in Texas has increased sharply, with 425 psychiatrists, more than 900 anesthesiologists and five hair transplant physicians among the more than 13,000 new doctors in Texas in the five years after the Legislature’s approval of the liability caps, the analysis found.
More than half the new doctors settled in the state’s largest urban areas, not in rural areas, where the shortage has been most apparent.
Healthcare costs, meanwhile, have continued to rise in Texas. Proponents of malpractice caps predicted that costs would drop along with lawsuits and malpractice insurance rates.
“Consumers are much worse off today,” said Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, a consumer advocacy group in Austin. “Not only have they not seen the benefits they were promised in healthcare, but now they’ve lost the ability to hold someone accountable. I think that puts patients at greater risk.”