On July 31 The Missouri Supreme Court voted to eliminate the medical malpractice awards cap – the Watts Ruling. The cap limited non-economic damages that could be awarded in a medical liability case. The decision may seem like a victory to some, but it could be a disaster for health care in Missouri.
Missouri’s medical liability insurers no longer have a way to reliably gauge price and risk when issuing liability policies to medical providers. The ruling will increase the cost of medical malpractice and liability insurance in Missouri and some providers will determine that Missouri may not be a state they want to continue to practice in or consider practicing in.
The timing couldn’t be worse because the ACA will significantly increase the number of individuals covered by some form of insurance and in 2014, as many as 500,000 Missourians could gain access to health insurance through a health insurance exchange or Medicaid. We’re currently not generating or attracting physicians fast enough to meet the demand for care anticipated in 2014 and beyond. Erecting new barriers to recruitment and retention will increase the difficulty for Missourians to find primary care. There’s already a shortage of primary care in rural Missouri and the court’s ruling could make that shortage more problematic.
There is potential to reverse the court’s ruling but that would require voter approval of a constitutional amendment. Stay tuned because there’s more to come and in the mean time we should all be worried about the health of health care in Missouri.