Great editorial today from Iowa’s Des Moines Register debunking a key medical malpractice myth. It’s called: “Physician numbers in Iowa not simple as politicians say; It's a myth malpractice drives them away.” Such poetry! The paper writes:
A few years ago the Office of Statewide Clinical Education Programs in the U of I Carver College of Medicine tracked down physicians who departed Iowa in 2007 and 2008 to find out why they left.
Of the 220 who responded, only one doctor said the most important reason for relocation was professional liability exposure. That’s right. One of 220 physicians. Only two listed government reimbursements as the most important reason.
“Those explanations for physician departure are extremely common misconceptions,” said Carol Alexander, interim assistant dean and director of the U of I office.
New York State researchers found basically the same thing. New York’s Center for Health Workforce Studies found that the main reasons physicians leave that state are: proximity to family; inadequate salary; and visa issues. For non-primary care physicians, no more than three percent leave due to the cost of malpractice insurance. For primary care physicians, it is even less - only one percent - and dead last on the list of possible reasons for leaving New York State. See more in the Center for Justice & Democracy's recent study on this topic.
Indeed, researchers have been examining this issue for years, as shown in the CJ&D study.
For example, Texas’ physician supply has been closely studied by Professor Bernard S. Black, Northwestern University – School of Law, Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management and the European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); David A. Hyman, University of Illinois College of Law; and Charles Silver, University of Texas School of Law. In their most recent study these researchers found that enactment of caps on compensation for injured patients, which Texas passed in 2003, has had no effect on physician supply. The methodology for this study, which controls for every conceivable factor, is so accurate that a national “tort reform” proponent admitted changing his mind about the issue after examining this work.
None of this should be news, of course. On August 29, 2003, the U.S. General Accountability Office released a study, requested by three U.S. House Committee Chairs – all Republicans –ostensibly for the purpose of finding support for the American Medical Association’s assertions that a widespread health care access “crisis” existed in this country. The AMA alleged that these access problems were caused by doctors’ medical malpractice insurance rates, that litigation was leading to unnecessary and costly defensive medicine, and that caps on damage awards are the only way to fix these problems. The GAO found that the AMA was wrong on each point.
So why do physicians chose to practice one place and not another? Like the Des Moines Register, the Texas researchers suggest, “Physician supply appears to be primarily driven by factors other than liability risk, including population trends, location of the physician’s residency, job opportunities within the physician’s specialty, lifestyle choices, and demand for medical services, including the extent to which the population is insured.”
In other words, yet more evidence that a doctor's decision where to live and practice has no connection to a state’s tort law.