Gov. Rick Perry's Remark to the Ector County Medical Society
Thank you, Dr. Bartlett, for those kind words. Mayor (Larry) Melton, it’s good to see you, and it’s good to see that Odessa football is being treated with a little more impartiality these days. Now if that movie director could land his next job at 60 Minutes, we’d be in pretty good shape.
It is always an honor to be in the presence of so many friends in the medical community, men and women who heal and treat Texans in need every day. While the people of Texas pray that we never need your services, when we do, we know that our lives are in good hands. I am deeply honored that you have chosen to present me with the Friend of Medicine award, but in my opinion, it is the men and women in this room who deserve the accolades.
As physicians and medical leaders, you are on the front lines of the battle against illness, disease and chronic conditions. And Texas is a much richer state for your contributions and compassion. As governor, I believe that the state of Texas has a duty to do all it can to support you in your mission of mending and saving lives. And of all the things we have accomplished as a state over the past few years to help the medical community, I am perhaps most proud of the sweeping medical liability reforms I signed into law and voters approved last year.
In the year that has passed since the Legislature and voters acted, Texas patients are experiencing better access to healthcare, communities are recruiting new physicians, insurance costs are down significantly for many hospitals and some doctors, and health care lawsuits have declined dramatically. Simply put, the medical insurance reforms we passed last year are beginning to heal healthcare and protect patients.
Today, medical liability rates are stable, and in some cases lower. Last year they were skyrocketing. Today, insurance providers are seeking to enter the Texas market. By last year all but four had left. Today, fewer medical lawsuits are being filed. Last year our courts were flooded with them. And today, Texas communities are finding it easier to recruit new doctors.
Last year, the healthcare exodus was well under way. What’s more, the prognosis for continued improvement is very good once the courts are unclogged from the avalanche of lawsuits filed just before the new law took effect on September 1st of last year. Our state’s hospitals are experiencing a 17 percent reduction in insurance costs. Today’s declining insurance rates are a stunning turn-around from 2003’s skyrocketing premiums, which went up an average of more than 50% last year.
The largest policy writer in Texas for hospitals, Healthcare Indemnity Incorporated, has reduced rates by 20 percent. In many cases, hospitals are pouring these savings into expanded charity care for needy Texans, or purchasing new medical technology. We also know that at least ten different insurance companies are seeking entry into the Texas market to provide coverage for physicians. What a contrast that is to a year ago when 13 of 17 medical liability insurance carriers had left our state.
With the Texas Medical Liability Trust, the state’s largest insurance carrier for doctors, reducing rates by 12 percent, and ten more companies competing to write physician policies, competition should lead to lower rates for more physicians in the near future. Lawsuits against hospitals are down 70 percent from last summer. The net effect of fewer lawsuits and declining liability costs is greater access to care and better services for Texas patients. Doctor recruitment efforts in medically underserved regions are finally yielding results. Physician morale is on the rise. And patients can know the best care in the world will be available to them, including those who seek the help they need here in the Permian Basin.
Our commitment to the medical community has been unwavering, even in tough economic times. Despite facing a $10 billion budget shortfall last year, we increased funding for health care programs by more than $1 billion. Part of that increase went toward funding 181 Federally Qualified Health Centers so that close to a quarter million more Texans, including many uninsured Texans, will have a place to turn to despite limited resources.
Federally Qualified Health Centers in the Permian Basin have benefited to the tune of $275,000. That same budget increased funding for Medicaid acute care coverage, for HIV medications and children with special health care needs. We also put a stop to the slow-pay practices of some in the insurance business by passing a new prompt pay law. This law is tough medicine for insurance companies whose payment practices are hostile to the practice of medicine. It builds on reforms we passed in 1999, and does so without sending more disputes to the courthouse. And I was proud to sign it.
We did something else that was critical. In years past, too many trauma centers across Texas were forced to divert patients because they had reached full capacity. And too often, this put lives at risk as critically injured Texans raced the clock to receive the life-saving care they needed. So we created the Texas Driver Responsibility Program, a new initiative that is pumping millions of dollars into our trauma centers, expanding the capacity of emergency rooms and intensive care units across the state, and helping to ensure that critical health care is available to more Texans when they need it most.
Through higher penalties on habitually dangerous drivers and DWI offenders, the program is expected to raise $1 billion for the state’s trauma care centers by 2008. So far, more than $18 million has been distributed to trauma care centers across the state, including $260,000 to those in Ector County and Midland County. In Texas, drunk and dangerous drivers can know that they will face stiff consequences, and law-abiding Texans can know that we are not only discouraging bad behavior with tough penalties, but using the proceeds of poor judgment to benefit their loved ones when they are hurt in an accident.
For all that we must do as a state to provide the resources and expertise needed to address a great many health care needs, we must never forget that better health care begins with personal responsibility. All Texans must take ownership of their health by eating right and exercising regularly.
The cost of poor health associated with excess weight is borne not only by the individual, it costs Texas taxpayers and businesses $10 billion each year through higher healthcare costs and lost productivity in the workplace. That’s why I helped launch the Texas Round-Up program, a statewide initiative designed to encourage all Texans to incorporate daily physical activity and healthy choices into their lives. More than 5,500 Texans participated in the first annual Texas Round-Up fitness festival and 10K challenge held earlier this year in Austin, and another 22,000 people signed up for the online, personalized training program intended to help Texans develop a long-term plan of action for daily exercise.
With only one in four Texans getting the recommended daily amount of exercise, the Texas Round-Up program is helping children and adults combat obesity, and it has the potential to have an even greater impact in the years to come.
We have made a firm commitment to our health care providers because government’s first responsibility is to ensure the safety and well-being of its people. And the people of Texas recognize and appreciate the sacrifices you make on our behalf: the long hours away from your families, the heartbreaking stories of illness and injury you hear everyday, and even greater costs that are sometimes paid by those medical providers who risk their lives to save lives. I was proud to help establish the Star of Texas awards in 2003 to honor peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical responders that make profound commitments in the line of duty.
Last month, the state paid tribute to the first recipients of the Star of Texas awards, including Paul Lujan, a flight paramedic here at Medical Center Hospital who gave his life in March of this year in a helicopter crash trying to save the life of a sick child. Like Paul Lujan, your commitment to the care of others inspires us all. We recognize that you provide an invaluable service to this state and its people, we are grateful for all you do to keep our people safe, and we are proud to support your efforts to help the people of Texas live healthy and meaningful lives.
May the practice of medicine always be attractive to future generations, and may Texans always have access to the best health care available.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless Texas.
Trauma Care Improvements (2003) »