Facing an 82% increase in malpractice premiums this month from their largest insurance carrier, Missouri doctors are calling for a special session of the Legislature next month to consider legislation to close a loophole in the state's cap on noneconomic damages.
That loophole in the state's $557,000 cap was created by a February 2002 state court decision, which counts each incident of physician wrongdoing as a separate legal action with a separate cap, says Tom Holloway, director of government relations at the Missouri State Medical Association.
Holloway says malpractice lawsuits filed since that decision identify as many as 23 to 24 separate caps in one single case against a physician, which, if left standing, would effectively erase any effect of a cap.
"This absolutely multiples the insurers' uncertainty," he says, adding that carriers have jacked up their rates to protect themselves against the possibility of future losses.
Intermed Insurance Co. of Springfield, Mo., a subsidiary of FPIC Insurance Group in Jacksonville, Fla., raised rates an average 82% in August, according to Randy McConnell, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Insurance.
McConnell says the increase includes a one-time 100% increase in the collar counties around Kansas City and St. Louis, which are now considered urban and have been shifted to a higher urban rate.
But even without that change, he says Intermed's rates for the rest of the state went up 75% this month, and the company has posted cumulative increases of 200% since 2001.
Meanwhile, Holloway says the current Missouri cap rises every year because it is tied to inflation. The medical society wants to bring down that rate, even it can't be reduced to the $250,000 level that the AMA recommends, and close the loophole.
In May, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a $350,000 cap, but Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, vetoed it in July.
Holloway says the governor has indicated he could accept a $450,000 cap, and that level would be acceptable to the medical association. Holloway did not indicate whether the governor would support closing the loophole.
The medical society would like the governor to call a special session in late September, when the Legislature is scheduled to hold a veto session, to consider the change, Holloway says. But he adds that the governor has not indicated that he will call a special session.