Will Proposed Limits to Missouri Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Lower the Cost of Health Care?

Some Missouri lawmakers are wanting to cap non-economic damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering.

This is not a first-time effort for the state legislature. It passed a cap on medical malpractice non-economic damages in 2005. That cap was thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court as being unconstitutional.

So why do proponents keep trying to limit Missourian’s legal rights? One reason they forward is that medical malpractice lawsuits increase the cost of healthcare. But this is not true. Numerous studies have shown there is no correlation between suing medical care providers for their harmful mistakes and a negative impact on health care in this country.

In 2003, Texas passed legislation that limited non-economic damages in medical malpractice awards. Proponents back then said it would lower the cost of medicine in Texas as well as bring more physicians to the Lone Star State. A 2011 study shows that these assumptions did not play out. There was no influx of doctors into Texas after the law passed, and health care costs did not decrease.

Some say that medical malpractice lawsuits cause doctors to practice “defensive medicine” – using an overabundance of tests and treatment that contributes to the rising cost of healthcare. A newer study, recently published on the website of the Journal of Patient Safety, disputes that as well. Researchers tracked Medicare reimbursement payments from 1999 to 2010 in three states that limit medical malpractice lawsuit awards: Texas, Mississippi, and Nevada. They found no difference in the cost of medical care before and after the states passed their laws.

We know that fatal medical errors won’t bring back a loved one, and that no amount of financial awards can completely make up for such a devastating loss. But victims of catastrophic medical mistakes should be allowed to receive compensation as deemed appropriate by a jury, without arbitrary restrictions.