Missouri is an example of effective medical malpractice reform
side note: Former-Gov. Blunt touts his state’s tort reform as the answer to healthcare problems and wasteful spending.
Wall Street Journal
There has been a lot of talk in Washington about cutting wasteful health-care spending, but it is troubling that such talk has not created a sense of urgency for national tort reform. It is especially frustrating because states have already shown that curbing junk lawsuits can cut costs, create jobs, and increase the quality of care available to patients.
I know this because that is exactly what happened in Missouri when, as governor, I helped to enact comprehensive reforms.
I took office in January 2005 at a time when runaway lawsuits were driving up the cost of doing business in my state and forcing doctors and other business owners to close their doors. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform keeps a list of states ranked according to their legal environment. At the time, Missouri ranked among the 10 worst.
“Venue-shopping,” a tactic that involves shifting a case to a friendly court regardless of where the injury occurred, was common. Defendants could be made to pay 100% of a judgment even if they were only 1% responsible for the injury. And caps on damages had been rendered meaningless by state court decisions.
This legal environment raised the cost of health care for everyone and imposed stiff costs on businesses. It also forced doctors to close their doors. For example, the eastern half of Jackson County, one of Missouri’s largest, lost its only neurosurgeons in 2003 due to high malpractice insurance costs. Many other parts of the state suffered from a lack of doctors able to deliver babies. One obstetrician who delivered more than 200 babies annually was forced to quit after his annual med-mal insurance premiums skyrocketed 82% in just one year. Making matters worse, few new doctors wanted to move to Missouri. One Kansas City area doctor sent letters to more than 400 physicians finishing their residencies and did not receive a single response back.
To counteract these problems we required that cases be heard in the county where the alleged injury occurred, and we changed the law so that defendants could only be forced to pay a full judgment if their fault exceeded 50%.