Dr. Villalobos’s Story

This month, a guest editorial in the Odessa (TX) American spoke volumes about the state of medical liability laws in the United States, a patchwork quilt of vastly different liability climates that is driving some physicians’ decisions on where to practice medicine.

Dr. Jackelinne Villalobos was an obstetrician in New York, working in a clinic where her bilingual skills enabled her to better treat her predominantly Spanish-speaking clientele.  As she tells it, she found her work in New York to be challenging and rewarding, but also unaffordable because of the $168,000 she was paying annually for medical liability insurance.  With a five to 12 percent rate hike expected the next year, she realized that even extended office hours and working six days a week wouldn’t allow her to maintain a viable practice with those crushing liability costs.

And, keep in mind, Dr. Villalobos points out that she had an unblemished practice without a single lawsuit payment ever made to a patient.

Today, Dr. Villalobos practices medicine in Houston, her decision made easy by the action of the Texas legislature in 2003 to pass landmark liability reform laws.  She’s not alone.  In the last fiscal year, the Texas Medical Licensing Board issued over 3,600 new medical practice licenses.  That’s 70 percent more doctors than in the years immediately before the legislature passed tort reform measures.

This is an issue that has been stymied in Congress, largely due to partisan gridlock and strong pressure applied by the nation’s trial attorneys.  As we face increasing physician shortages in the not-too-distant future – 130,000 fewer doctors than the number of patients will require in 2025, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges – it’s increasingly necessary that lawmakers learn from the Texas experience and the story of physicians like Jackelinne Villalobos.