David Dewhurst

Ten years ago this week, the Texas Legislature took decisive action to improve access to healthcare and reduce frivolous medical liability lawsuits filed by personal injury trial lawyers. In passing medical liability reform, Texas strengthened the underpinnings of our economy, caught the attention of quality doctors from across the country and set a standard that our nation would be wise to emulate. Those tort reforms have been great for Texas.

Before 2003, more than two-thirds of the state’s trauma service areas experienced per capita loss in patient care physicians, largely because the threat of medical liability suits made insurance excessively expensive thus dramatically increasing the cost to practice medicine in Texas. Responding to citizens concerned about one of the lowest doctor-to-citizen ratios in the country, we spent the 2003 Legislative Session crafting free-market approaches to lowering costs of liability insurance for doctors in order to make sure every Texan had access to health care.

The resulting legislation, House Bill 4, capped the potential non-economic damages in medical liability cases, essentially halting frivolous lawsuits that were burdening specialists such as obstetricians, neurosurgeons, and others. This was especially necessary since, at the time, two-thirds of Texas counties had no obstetricians, 60% of counties had no pediatricians, and 24 counties in the Rio Grande Valley had no primary care physicians. HB 4 also empowered the Texas Medical Board to better protect patients against those physicians who do commit medical errors.

The legislative battle was fierce, with opponents dragging out debate for days, but HB 4 ultimately passed the Texas Senate with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 27 of the 31 state senators. That following November, the citizens of Texas affirmed our efforts to increase access to care by approving Proposition 12, the accompanying constitutional amendment.

Almost immediately after passage of HB 4 in 2003, medical malpractice liability insurance rates dropped more than 40%, which led to increased competition, more physicians applying for Texas licenses, and more access to care for Texas families. Since that time, more than 30,000 new physicians have been licensed to practice medicine in Texas. I'm especially proud that these reforms increased the number of doctors in traditionally underserved counties like Hidalgo and Cameron.

David Dewhurst

David Dewhurst is the Lieutenant Governor of Texas.