KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Supreme Court Weighs Medical Malpractice Caps In Case That Would Impact Doctors, Patients

The Kansas Health Institute has a package of stories about a malpractice case being considered by the Kansas Supreme Court in which the justices could determine if the state's caps on medical malpractice awards are constitutional. The case involves Amy Miller, who underwent surgery to have an ovary removed. But the surgeon took the wrong ovary and later she had the second one taken out. She sued the doctor and a jury "awarded her $760,000 in damages -- $360,000 for past and future medical expenses and $400,000 for past and future non-economic losses. Then-District Court Judge Steve Six reduced the non-economic damages to $250,000. ... Under Kansas law, awards for non-economic losses – often referred to as 'pain and suffering' – are capped at $250,000. Legislators enacted the cap in 1986 amid fears that lawsuits were on the rise, causing medical malpractice insurance premiums to skyrocket and doctors to flee the state."

The case was appealed and the state supreme court heard arguments in October. "But lobbyists for doctors, hospitals and insurance companies are expecting the cap will be struck down by the court and are warning that should that happen, malpractice premiums for doctors and hospitals likely would double" (Ranney, 3/2).

In one of the other pieces, KHI reports on malpractice insurance: "In Kansas, most physicians buy malpractice insurance through KaMMCO, a mutual insurance company that is an affiliate of the Kansas Medical Society. KaMMCO policies cover up to $200,000 in liability, after which the state's Health Care Stabilization Fund covers an additional $800,000. Physicians who want or need more than $1 million in coverage are expected to buy supplemental policies through KaMMCo or other companies" (Ranney, 3/2).

Another article reports on the legal history of the malpractice caps in Kansas (Ranney, 3/2). Meanwhile, the fourth KHI piece reports on caps in other states (Ranney, 3/2).

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