• Missouri needs medical tort reform

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  • Stephen Slocum, M.D.
    president, Missouri State Medical Association
    Jefferson City
    To the editor:
    Ten years ago Missouri was mired in a medical lawsuit crisis that threatened access to health care in Independence and every corner of the state. Lawsuit insurance premiums skyrocketed, medical practices closed, physicians were forced to abandon risky procedures, such as surgery and delivering babies, and many others simply left the state.
    In 2005, the Missouri legislature responded by enacting a common-sense, bipartisan tort reform measure that slowed runaway litigation and stabilized the health-care environment. A reasonable limit on non-economic damages was the linchpin of that measure, and the results were dramatic. The number of lawsuits filed in Missouri dropped substantially, the insurance market stabilized, premiums became affordable again, and physicians returned to Missouri.
    In the three years prior to tort reform, Missouri lost 225 physicians to the lawsuit crisis. Since then, more than 1,000 additional physicians are providing care here. And despite gaining those physicians, Missouri saw a $27 million decrease in insurance premiums paid. This is money that did not go to fighting lawsuits, but stayed in the health-care system, creating jobs and providing better services and access to care.
    Unfortunately, the Missouri Supreme Court recently voided the limit on non-economic damages, touching off evidence-based forecasts of the very same conditions that crippled the health-care system a decade ago. Fortunately, however, the state legislature is working to fix the problem before it’s too late. Senate Bill 105 and House Bill 112 would reinstate the vitally important non-economic damages cap and restore balance to the state’s tort system.
    A large coalition of concerned citizens, health-care providers, business leaders and others has formed in support of these measures. Every other Missourian should do their share and encourage their senators and representatives to support this important effort.

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