Missouri Supreme Court ruling could increase medical costs

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COLUMBIA - Some healthcare and other medical costs could soon start rising in Missouri because of a court decision, according to several mid-Missouri doctors.

Some doctors are starting to pass on the higher malpractice insurance rates that resulted from a 2012 Missouri Supreme Court decision.

Physician Ted Groshong said, "Everybody who goes to a doctor, anyone who goes to a nurse practitioner, anyone who goes to a hospital, emergency room, there's a portion of that cost that goes to cover the malpractice insurance cost of whoever that provider is."

The Court ruled it was unconstitutional to place caps on non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases. That means juries can pay as large an award as they deem necessary if a doctor injures a patient.

Groshong, who has been a doctor for 47 years, said it doesn't take decades of wisdom to figure out that doctors paying more in lawsuits will eventually affect the consumer.

"When there are very large awards, and there often are very large awards, it's not like the doctor pays, everybody pays," Groshong said.

A patient deemed wrongfully injured can receive uncapped money for the costs of injury, everything from medical bills to what they would've earned if they hadn't been injured.

With the 2012 ruling, a patient can also receive unlimited damages for pain and suffering as determined by a jury.

Groshong said he believes the patient receives plenty of compensation for their loss, even with a cap on damages for pain and suffering.

However, David Smith, an attorney who represents the wrongfully injured, said many of his clients do not get economic damages and rely on the pain and suffering award. For them, the ruling makes a difference.

"Caps discriminate against the poor, children, and elderly, because generally they don't have a lot of earning potential, so when they get killed, unfortunately, they're capped at 350,000," Smith said.

$350,000 was the previous cap on damages awarded for pain and suffering before it was removed.

Smith said he also questions whether rates rise when a cap on non-economic damages is removed.

"Doctors and lobbyists say people will have to pay higher rates, that's simply not true, those are lobbyist talking points designed to keep the doctors from being held accountable," Smith said.

One study showed consumers pay less when their state has a cap on non-economic damages, but another study indicated the consumer and doctor have increased costs in states with a cap.

Even if there was a conclusive study, Smith said, he still wouldn't support a cap.

"You can't put a limit on how much someone's life is worth," he said.