ANALYSIS: Rick Perry’s Real Health Care Story

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (file photo)

By Wendell Potter
iWatch News | News Report
From The Center for Public Integrity

I did exactly what the doctor told me. But I’m not feeling any better.  Maybe even a little worse.

Last week, Dr. Michael Burgess, tweeted this directive: “Mark your calendars: Rick Perry will join Health Caucus’ Thought Leaders Series next Wednesday, December 7 @ 5 p.m.

Eager to hear what wisdom the Texas governor and presidential candidate would be imparting, I marked my calendar as Dr. Burgess prescribed. Imagine my dismay when I learned yesterday  that Perry would be sharing his thoughts behind closed doors.  The media and public, it turns out, had been disinvited.

Burgess, a Texas Republican, chairs the Congressional Health Care Caucus, which, according to its Web site, “is committed to advancing reforms that reduce costs, increase patient control, expand choice, and promote cures.”

Committed as it may be, the caucus is composed of only of Republicans, and the thought leaders who have appeared before it in recent months have been limited to members of the GOP who are running for president.

Last month, both Herman Cain and Ron Paul spoke to the caucus. Newt Gingrich was the guest of honor last spring. But unlike yesterday’s meeting of the caucus, all of those were open to the public and media and streamed live on the Internet.

Burgess said it was the Perry campaign’s request to close the meeting, not his. “They have asked that it be closed to the press, and we are respecting their wishes,” Burgess was quoted in theWashington Post as telling reporters in the Capitol Tuesday night.

Why would Perry insist on sharing his thoughts with just a handful of GOP lawmakers?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but I suspect it’s because Perry didn’t cotton to the prospect of  answering  questions about two reports published this week, both of which show that, by many measures, things have  gone from bad to worse since Perry became governor 11 years ago this month.

Perry has not said much to anyone about what he would do to address the many problems of the U.S. health care system,  other than to repeal “Obamacare.” One of the few accomplishments he’s touted is tort reform. With his strong backing, Texas in 2003 instituted liability caps that limit the amount of money plaintiffs can collect if they prevail in medical malpractice suits against doctors. Patients in Texas can receive no more than $250,000 in non-economic damages as a result of the caps.

Perry has bragged that doctors have flocked to Texas since 2003 because of the medical malpractice damage caps and that those caps have helped control health care costs in the Lone Star state.

On Tuesday, however, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen released a study that debunks those claims.

“While litigation over malpractice in Texas has plummeted dramatically since the caps were imposed, residents of Texas-except for people with financial connections to liability insurance companies and, to a lesser extent, doctors—have realized few, if any, benefits,” Public Citizen said in a statement accompanying the study. “Instead, the health care picture in Texas has worsened significantly by almost any measure.”


Public Citizen’s study found that Medicare spending has increased faster in Texas  than in the nation as a whole and that outpatient service costs covered by Medicare have also exceeded national averages.

“More Texans lack health insurance, the per capita number of doctors has not increased noticeably, and premiums for private health insurance have increased at a rate higher than the national average,” the study said.

The study was based in part on U.S. Census data, which shows that Texas continues to be—as the Texas Medical Association put it a few years ago—“the uninsured capital of United States.”

More than 26 percent of Texans are uninsured, the highest rate in the country. That means that about 6.3 million Texans—men, women and children—have no health insurance. That’s almost exactly the population of my home state of Tennessee. An analysis by the Texas Medical Association a few years back showed that children were especially disadvantaged in Texas: a full 30 percent of Texas kids were uninsured in 2006-2007.

The other noteworthy study this week came from the Association of American Medical Colleges. The AAMC reported that Texas ranks 48th in the number of active patient primary care physicians per 100,000 population. There are just 62 primary care doctors per 100,000 people in Texas compared to the national median of 80.

Citing the AAMC report, Alex Winslow, executive director of the citizen advocacy organization Texas Watch, said that, “Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the data proves that Texas continues to fall far behind in access to health care. Texas patients need meaningful reforms that improve the cost, quality and access to health care—not empty rhetoric and hollow promises.”

That’s not something that only Texas patients need. The rest of us could use some meaningful reform as well. What do you say to that, Gov. Perry?

Reprinted by permission from iWatch News

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