Legislative Column for the Week of March 9, 2015
Protecting the Future of Missouri's
Health Care Providers

Senate Bill 239, which creates a statutory cause for damages against health care providers, has received final approval from the Senate and is moving to the House for its consideration. This measure would create caps on the amount of noneconomic damages an individual could receive from health care providers for personal injury or death.

Last month, SB 239 was brought before the Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee, a committee on which I serve. Eight witnesses testified in support of the bill. Numerous family doctors testified that premiums have tripled due to the increasing amount of malpractice cases. Health care providers are now paying insurance premiums of $25,000 to $50,000 per year.

Under SB 239, caps are placed on damages an individual could receive during a malpractice case for noneconomic damages for personal injury or death that would result from rendering or failure to render health care services. These caps would include no more than $400,000 for personal injuries, and $700,000 for a catastrophic personal injury or death. The limitation caps will increase 1.7 percent each year, in which the new value will be calculated by the Director of the Department of Insurance.

Obstetricians are currently the highest professions sued. This is resulting in fewer and fewer doctors in that field. Inevitably, we are witnessing a decreased amount of professionals practicing medicine in general. Doctors are either retiring or moving away, both of which are bad for Missouri. It is imperative that we are able to provide adequate health care to Missourians and we cannot do that if doctors are leaving the state in order to avoid inflated premiums.

Hospitals are struggling to recruit doctors due to the high premiums they have to carry, while Kansas’ premiums are half of what Missouri’s are. Health care providers have noticed this. With one of Missouri’s largest metropolitan areas straddling the state line, Missourians and our physicians are crossing the states’ boarder for health care, causing lasting effects on our state’s economy and the level of health care we provide. Half of $50,000 is a pretty high incentive.

This measure would not affect economic damages such as time off work or medical expenses.  Economic damages do not have caps. This measure, if passed, would only put a cap on the noneconomic damages of pain and suffering. However, there is a clause in the bill that would allow these caps to be exceeded if a jury’s verdict finds the allotted amount to be unsatisfactory. A trial court would then determine if the limitations or caps will apply.

I whole-heartedly trust juries to determine guilt and innocence, but I do not trust juries to award monetary damages. During trials and testimony, far too often the emotions of jurors are used against them in an effort to collect on an emotional lottery. During emotional testimonies, it is easy to lose sight of the concept of money.

It is essential we protect all Missourians, including our health care providers. Unfortunately, there are individuals that take advantage of the system, wasting a lot of time and money, resulting in outrageous insurance premiums for Missouri’s health care providers. The cost of doing business has gone up, and when the cost goes up, the damages always roll down onto the consumers.

Protecting Missourians and insuring they are provided every opportunity to live healthy, happy and productive lives is a top priority of mine. I offer my full support to this legislation in hopes that we are able to create a more just and fair system across the board.

I urge you to contact me with any questions or concerns you have about state government so that I can better represent you during the 2015 Legislative Session.

Contact Me

I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions, and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Wayne Wallingford, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101, or email at wayne.wallingford@senate.mo.gov or www.senate.mo.gov/wallingford.

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