Malpractice case has doctors worried

If court throws out caps, medical society has a constitutional amendment ready

0 | KHPA, Health Care Delivery

Jerry Slaughter of the Kansas Medical Society told members of the Kansas Health Policy Authority that doctors are worried the Kansas Supreme Court will soon overturn a long standing cap on the damages that can be awarded to victims of medical malpractice. If that happens in a way that the Legislature cannot quickly remedy, he said, the medical society has a proposed constitutional amendment ready to go.

Jerry Slaughter of the Kansas Medical Society told members of the Kansas Health Policy Authority that doctors are worried the Kansas Supreme Court will soon overturn a long standing cap on the damages that can be awarded to victims of medical malpractice. If that happens in a way that the Legislature cannot quickly remedy, he said, the medical society has a proposed constitutional amendment ready to go.

— Premiums for medical malpractice insurance will likely double for most doctors and hospitals, members of the Kansas Health Policy Authority board were told Tuesday, if the Kansas Supreme Court overturns a long standing cap on the amount of damages malpractice victims can collect as the result of a lawsuit.

Jerry Slaughter, executive director of the Kansas Medical Society, told the board that Kansas medical providers are anxiously awaiting the ruling that will come in the case of Miller v Johnson, which originated in Douglas County after a doctor in 2002 removed a young woman's left ovary instead of the right.

Under current Kansas law, malpractice victims can be awarded no more than $250,000 for pain and suffering as a result of a medical provider's mistake.

But Slaughter said the court is likely to overturn that.

"We're getting pretty anxious about it," he said. "Medical malpractice premiums will probably double for most doctors and most hospitals."

Annual premiums for a primary care or family practice doctor could rise to $12,000 or $15,000 a year, he said. Surgeons could end up paying $80,000 or $90,000 a year for insurance.

"When premiums go that high," he said, "it's hard to recruit to our rural areas."

Slaughter said if the court were to nullify the cap in a way that the Legislature couldn't quickly remedy then the medical society would sponsor and promote a state constitutional amendment.

"We have a constitutional amendment prepared and ready to go," he said. "We'll get it on the ballot, presumably for 2010 in August or November. This is a very big issue for people in health care. We hope they (the court) will uphold the law, but we're not optimistic that will be the case."

Slaughter received a sympathetic hearing from at least one member of the health policy authority board.

Dr. Vernon Mills, a Leavenworth pediatrician, said if the cap were lifted, "you'll see doctors going someplace else.

"This issue is going to be crucial," he said. "You're going to hurt people (providers) on the front lines."

No one spoke on behalf of removing or striking down the liability cap.

One of the arguments against the cap is that it has not been adjusted over time. In one brief filed in the case, an attorney for the woman said $250,000 in 1988 dollars was the equivalent of $142,223 in 2007.

In other action Tuesday, the board:

  • Learned that executive Director Andy Allison and Medicaid Inspector General Nick Kramer each had their annual salaries reduced 5 percent as part of budget cutting measures enacted by the Legislature.
  • Approved the annual report by the Medicaid Office of Inspector General and heard that office was starting on its next audit - an examination of KHPA contracting practices.
  • Heard from Acting Medicaid Director Barb Langner that the backlog at the Medicaid application clearinghouse was now at 22,500. Langer said 10,000 people had been waiting 30 days or more for a determination on their eligibility for the program.









         The Kansas Budget Puzzle

This interactive feature allows you to make tax and spend decisions and build your own version of the state budget.
See if you can solve the budget puzzle!