Chasing Ambulances and the Rising Cost of Health Care

When productive members of society have to make up for the waste of non-productive members of society, the net effect is a decreased enjoyment of the material blessings of life for everyone. One problem with health care in the United States is that we have way too many lawyers. Like annoying dogs, many attorneys constantly nip at the heels of doctors with their senseless litigation on behalf of themselves rather than for their clients.

I remember quite some time ago listening to a Paul Harvey commentary on the radio. I don't remember the exact ratios, but I remember the stark contrast he presented. While Japan had something like five doctors for every one attorney, the United States had nearly the correlative inverse--about 5 lawyers for every doctor. This skewed ratio of lawyers to doctors contributes significantly to the high cost of health care in the United States. It needs to be fixed.

Investor's Business Daily recently ran across a place that lawyers don't much enjoy anymore--Texas. In Texas, the spoils of litigation are no longer a slop pile for legal swine to wallow in.

The migration of doctors into Texas has become such a flood that the state cannot process their license applications fast enough. It should be no surprise that the Texas Medical Board received 4,000 applications for medical licenses last year, a 33% increase over 2005. Or that applications jumped 88% from the first half of 2003 to the first half of 2006. Here's why:

Four years ago, through a constitutional amendment, the state capped noneconomic damages in medical malpractice suits. The result has been a 21% drop in the average malpractice insurance premium. An Associated Press report tells of one oncologist who moved from Chicago to Austin and saw his malpractice insurance premium cut by three-fourths.

Though the system is straining to process the applications and taxpayers are having to fund added staff, Texans will benefit from the $250,000 cap the state has placed on noneconomic damages that can be awarded in a malpractice lawsuit. (The same cap is in place for hospitals and other medical facilities.) The deluge of applicants ensures that the Texas board can choose the best doctors to practice there. It will also give Texans more choice.

Residents of other states aren't so fortunate.

In Texas, meanwhile, things are looking up in terms of health care.

areas of Texas where trauma patients once had to be flown elsewhere for treatment are now getting the doctors they need to staff their trauma centers.

Utah and other states, take note. Sensible law can protect the rights of people to work without constant duress. When, in the case of doctors, people are allowed to serve without the constant stress of looming litigation, the health of everyone is benefited.


  1. What bugs me in this whole mess is that I have yet to see any data on malpractice insurance premiums showing a steep increase correlated to lawsuit damages. I have, however, noticed that these same increases can be easily correlated to a precipitous decline in the stock market, a place where most insurance money gets invested.

    It's not all that far-fetched: insurance company takes a bath on stocks during the dot-com implosion, they increase rates while blaming lawyers, doctors and lawyers go at each other instead of taking a hard look at the insurance company. Brilliant. Nobody questions their reasons and they walk off with a killing.


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