The Missouri Supreme Court’s July 31 decision to eliminate the medical malpractice awards cap might seem like a victory to some, but it has the potential for a significantly detrimental impact on health care in Missouri.
It’s no secret that before the 2005 tort reform, hundreds of Missouri doctors retired, left the state or quit their practices due to skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums.
Once tort reform was enacted, many medical malpractice insurers entered or re-entered Missouri eager for market share, but then a new problem emerged: Many of these providers, whose industry experience had been limited to purchasing a policy, were charging actuarially unsound premiums insufficient to cover the long-term liabilities of this business. As a result, many are not equipped to cover the potential payouts for current and future claims.
As an insurance industry veteran and president of the Missouri-based insurer Missouri Professionals Mutual, I’ve seen this happen before and knew it would happen again. I proactively implemented a strategy to protect our insured and maintain rate stability in the face of this type of decision. However, other unprepared insurers will likely be forced to raise their rates drastically, once again creating an incredibly difficult climate for Missouri physicians.
Missouri Professionals Mutual and other opponents of the ruling will aggressively fight it, but history tells us that there is no quick fix. The cycle of tort reform typically takes years to resolve. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to for Missouri citizens to visit their doctors while they’re still here.
Timothy H. Trout is president of Missouri-based insurer Missouri Professionals Mutual. He lives in Creve Coeur. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.