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Gov. Rick Perry, Tort Reform, and the Big Texas Lie

Texas has a way of producing politicians with populist appeal.  And now comes Governor Rick Perry.  Unfortunately, the recent Texas formula has been to build political popularity on misrepresentations and half truths.  The most persistent of these misrepresentations and half truths over the years has been the rationale for tort reform. The tort reform torch was carried most famously by “W,” the Bush brother and Texas Governor, whose most prominent political victory before ascending to presidency of the United States of America was capping damages and virtually eliminating compensation for the most catastrophically and egregiously injured victims of medical malpractice in Texas.  Bush was accompanied in this mission by his brother Jeb, who passed similar measures in Florida.  Their intellectual guru on this topic was Karl Rove.  The plan was bereft of all factual support, but it rested on the twin towers of (a) public cynicism toward our system of justice and (b) a public easily swayed to protect itself from the false, but scary, threat of doctors fleeing the states of Texas and Florida.  The strategy was brilliant, albeit based on myths, and people bought it.  (For an eye opening look at this, watch Hot Coffee The Movie, an HBO documentary uncovering the motivations for, and myths supporting, the tort reform movement in this country: Hot Coffee The Movie Trailer.) The real mission was to separate the trial bar, one of the key sources of money for the Democratic party, from its source of funds.  Eliminate victims’ rights and you eliminate the fees that sustain the lawyers who represent victims.  Then, they have nothing to give the Democrats who come calling for financial support.

The problem is that this Machiavellian political strategy has never been justified as necessary or beneficial.  It certainly does nothing to incentivize safe medical practice, and its justification — fleeing doctors — was never borne out by the data.  Indeed, before Texas tort reform, Texas added physicians at twice the rate of Texas’ population growth.   Since tort reform, the state has added physicians at roughly the same rate as its population growth.   Yet Governor Rick Perry, now running for president of the United States, beats the tort reform drum, misapprehends the facts, and claims that Texas has experienced a growth in its physicians due to tort reform.  Sadly, he ignores the facts.  His claim that tort reform, not population growth, has led to more Texas doctors is “flat out wrong” according to PolitiFact.com’s “Truth-O-Meter.”  Check it out here.

Here’s the bottom line of what we have learned from Texas politics over the last ten years: watch out for Texas political theory.  It may sound good, but the practical results of politically motivated misrepresentations (e.g., “weapons of mass destruction”) are often devastating.