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Fix What Is Broken First

Posted December 12, 2012
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Imagine this scenario. Texans are facing a physician shortage. Under-served rural and poor communities struggle to attract doctors to serve their needs. Politicians scramble to find a solution to the crisis.┬áThat is where we were 10 years ago. Things aren’t so different today.

Back then, the lobbyists and political spinmeisters promised that if we gave up our ability to hold a dangerous doctor accountable, then we’d see the physician supply problem – and a host of other problems in our health care system – evaporate. So, voters narrowly passed an amendment to our state’s constitution that gave politicians the ability to eviscerate legal accountability when you are needlessly harmed by medical negligence.

Flash forward to today. Under-served communities continue to struggle to attract good doctors. Our state ranks near the bottom in per capita physicians. Not to mention the fact that our health care costs are higher and quality of care is worse. And, yes, politicians are scrambling to find a solution.

Evidently the policies enacted 10 years ago haven’t worked. Otherwise, why would this still be a problem needing additional legislative action?

This time, they are considering legislation by Sen. Jane Nelson, chair of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, to improve physician supply by increasing the number of residency slots available, rewarding medical schools that find ways to keep doctors in Texas, and forgiving medical school loans for doctors who agree to see poor patients. These are laudable goals and lawmakers should support the bill.

The real question, however, is this: Since we know that tearing up our constitution under the guise of better health care is a failed policy, why don’t we restore the patient protections first? Not only has this failed idea not solved the doctor supply problem, it hasn’t lowered health costs for families or the state. Nor has it improved the quality of care. We are, in fact, dead last in the nation in terms of quality of care.

Politicians – including Gov. Perry – should stop defending this policy that has torn a hole in our constitution. Instead, they should restore accountability so that when one of the very few doctors who commit most of the medical negligence harms a patient, they are held responsible for it. They and their insurance companies – not taxpayers or the injured patient – should bear the cost and face public scrutiny for their decisions.

Let’s move forward to address the physician supply problem honestly and without cynicism. Sen. Nelson is on the right track. Incentivizing good doctors and hospitals to serve Texans is a great idea worthy of support. But the first step is admitting when we have made a mistake and fixing it.

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