Bill would limit doctor liability in Miss. Medicaid cases

Published 5:03 pm Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Mississippi Senate has passed legislation that would limit how much a Medicaid patient could receive from a physician in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Supporters proposal say the proposal would help attract and retain doctors to serve Medicaid patients.

But critics said the bill, which passed 27-18 Wednesday, is unfair to Medicaid patients because it restricts the amount they could receive in damages if they are harmed or killed by a doctor’s recklessness.

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The bill would bring all doctors, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, said Judiciary A Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall.

The 2004 legislation placed new limits on awards in damage lawsuits. Among other things, the law capped pain-and-suffering damage awards at $1 million in most lawsuits and kept the $500,000 pain-and-suffering cap adopted in 2002 for medical malpractice cases.

However, that cap didn’t extend to physicians in Medicaid cases, said Sen. Tom King, R-Petal, the primary author of the bill. Currently, those physicians could be sued for up to $1 million.

Under the bill, the most a Medicaid patient could receive in a malpractice suit would be $500,000.

Sen. Bennie Turner, D-West Point, scolded members in the chamber who supported the bill and compared the proposal to a medical procedure.

“You’re not wielding a scalpel. What I see is a meat ax and even if you were to apply anesthesia, I don’t think it would help. What we’re talking about is protecting physicians from the consequences of medical malpractice,” Turner said.

Mississippi’s Medicaid program provides health care to 568,000 people, including children, the elderly, disabled and poor.

Sen. Tom King, R-Hattiesburg, the primary author of the bill, said the legislation “is a positive step in helping us keep doctors. We have doctors fleeing in our rural areas.”

The bill now heads to the House, where Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said his colleagues “will look at it with more than a cursory review.”

Holland said the legislation adopted in 2004 and 2002 already had put the limits in place.