Senate passes malpractice reform bill

Lawmakers are forced to compromise on the measure.
Friday, April 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:54 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — After breaking a contentious, 16-hour debate Thursday, senators passed legislation that supporters say will help lower doctors’ malpractice insurance premiums.

The legislation, which passed 24-8, would create new restrictions for many types of lawsuits, including putting new caps on jury awards in medical malpractice cases. Insurance companies claim high awards are the cause of doctors’ fast-rising premiums, although opponents of caps say they have not been proven to lower insurance costs.

After Democrats blocked the Republican-backed bill from coming to a vote, a compromise was reached that would also create a tax credit for doctors whose premiums are on the rise and give state regulators more power to restrict rates charged by insurance companies.

If the House, which passed the bill last month, does not accept all of the Senate changes, negotiators will have to work out a final version.

Both parties have complaints. Republicans are unhappy with the tax credit and insurance regulations that were added, while Democrats don’t like provisions limiting where lawsuits can be filed and when defendants can be held liable for judgments.

One of the more controversial issues has been the cap on payments for pain and suffering, or noneconomic damages. The existing cap of $565,000 would be lowered to $450,000. To appease the bill’s opponents, lawmakers agreed to offer doctors a tax credit — a direct deduction on state taxes — of 15 percent of the increase in their annual malpractice premium. The state would be able to award up to $15 million in credits per year, with a cap of $15,000 on the credits that could be given to each doctor. The Senate-approved version of the bill would also allow the Department of Insurance to prohibit insurers from raising rates by more than 20 percent of the previous year’s market median. The House has already approved similar insurance regulation.

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