Perry Calls Texas' 46th-Ranked Health System Best in U.S.
Everything, they say, is bigger in the Texas. So it is with the failure of the health care system. Leading the nation with a horrifying 25% of its residents uninsured, Texas ranked 46th in the Commonwealth Fund's 2009 scorecard of state health care performance. Nevertheless, that dismal performance was no barrier to Governor Rick Perry proclaiming that the Lone Star state has the best health care in the country.
Perry the full-time fabulist and part-time secessionist made his jaw-dropping claim on Bill Bennett's radio show Wednesday:
BENNETT: Thirty seconds on the doctors. You've got the best health care in the country, now I think, don't you? Because of your tort law?
PERRY: We do, yes. I spoke with the doctors yesterday in San Antonio. We've got, you know, three of the great health care -- well not -- three of the great health care regions. When you think about the medical center in Houston, there are more doctors, nurses, researchers go to work there than any other place in the world, every day. You got UT Southwestern up in University of Texas Health Sciences Center, San Antonio, Scott & White. I mean these fabulous health care facilities.
As it turns out, this isn't the first time Perry has made such grandiose claims about the Texas health care mess. In a Washington Post op-ed titled, "Let States Lead the Way," Perry and Newt Gingrich blasted Democratic health care reform proposals. The duo insisted it is the Lone Star State which should be at the front of that vanguard. In response, an incredulous Ezra Klein asked, "How's that working out?"
The answer, of course, is quite poorly. While from 2007 to 2009 Texas nudged its way from a horrific 48th to a merely miserable 46th in the Commonwealth Fund rankings, the health care system there remains an ongoing calamity for its residents. Among the poster children for the failure of red state health care, Perry's state brought up the rear across the five indicators measured. When it comes to health care access and equity, Texas is dead last.
While it is predictable that Republicans Bennett, Perry and Gingrich cite Texas' draconian tort reform law as an example for the nation, the data is far from clear as to its benefits in actually reducing malpractice premiums, lowering costs and attracting physicians to the underserved state.
As detailed in "Republican Malpractice Myths," it comes as no surprise that a cavalcade of GOP leaders, including Perry, Sarah Palin, John Cornyn and John Kyl cited the same study showing malpractice awards caps enacted in 2003 in Texas fueled an increase in the number of physicians in the Lone Star State:
According to the Pacific Research Institute, medical licenses in Texas have increased 18 percent in the last four years, with 7,000 new doctors moving to the state.
The actual impact of the Texas law, however, remains in dispute. The state's rising population, its 48th place ranking in physicians per capita, its staggering percentage of uninsured, its lack of an income tax and the 147% jump in malpractice premiums in 2003 alone make gauging the unique contribution of malpractice caps difficult to assess. Regardless, health care costs in Texas have continued their upward spiral. . (It's worth noting that Governor Haley Barbour's claim that tort reform meant that physicians in Mississippi "have quit leaving the state and limiting their practices to avoid lawsuit abuse" has similarly been debunked.)
Ultimately, Rick Perry's latest myth-making only serves to highlight the two inescapable truths of the debate over health care reform in the United States. First, health care is worst in precisely those reddest of states where Republicans poll best. Second, Republicans like Rick Perry lie about that fact.
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