The Texas Medical Board, which licenses and regulates the practice of medicine in the state, has a problem. And as problems go, it's a relatively good one for Texas to have.
So many doctors are seeking licenses to practice in Texas that the board is facing a certification backlog. As Express-News business columnist David Hendricks recently detailed, the board processed 2,446 licenses in fiscal year 2001. In fiscal year 2006, the number jumped to 4,026.
More doctors who earn their medical degrees in Texas are choosing to stay here. And more doctors from other states are seeking to move here.
Why the change? Historic tort reform in 2003 that capped non-economic damages from malpractice lawsuits at $250,000. Five years ago, the legal climate and skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates made Texas an unattractive place for doctors to make a living. Those rates have dropped by nearly 30 percent since voters approved Proposition 12.
The medical malpractice debate is normally an economic and legal abstraction. But the experience in Texas provides hard evidence that reasonable reforms can have real world consequences that improve access to health care.
The influx of medical professionals to the Lone Star State comes as researchers are warning that the nation faces a critical doctor shortage. Medical schools simply aren't turning out enough physicians to keep pace with the needs of a graying America.
In Austin, legislators are considering an emergency appropriation of $400,000 for the medical board to clear the licensing logjam. That's a small investment to make to get more doctors working, employing staff, paying taxes and treating patients in Texas.