Governor Proposes Forming Medical Malpractice Insurance Pool

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove says he'll ask legislators in next week's special session to create an insurance pool for health care providers who are having trouble renewing malpractice coverage.

"The bill encompasses and seeks to address both the short term of the immediate need of doctors without insurance throughout the state and the long term stability and availability of health care insurance,'' Musgrove said Wednesday during a news conference at the Capitol.

The state would issue a $10 million bond to set up a nonprofit authority for malpractice liability insurance, then that money would be repaid as doctors, hospitals and nursing homes pay their premiums. Those in the new pool would be required to treat patients covered by government-sponsored programs - Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and state employees' and teachers' insurance.

Members of the new pool would have one advantage over health providers with other types of insurance. If they lose a civil lawsuit, they would have to pay no more than $250,000 for the pain and suffering damage awards.

Musgrove is proposing that doctors, hospitals and nursing homes with other malpractice insurance coverage would have to pay no more than $500,000 for pain and suffering awards.

In each case, caps could be lifted for exceptional circumstances or gross negligence, Musgrove said. There are no caps now on pain and suffering awards, also called non-economic damages.

Some doctors say unlimited awards in civil lawsuits are driving up insurance costs. David Baria of Jackson, president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, called caps "an arbitrary limit'' that would disproportionately hurt those with less earning power - children, stay-at-home mothers and the elderly.

The president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, Dr. John Cook of Brandon, applauded work by Musgrove and legislators to help doctors get insurance coverage.

"From what we see, it's a good proposal,'' Cook said of Musgrove's plan.

Some of Musgrove's other recommendations:

  • Limit a case to the county where medical malpractice occurred.
  • Block out-of-state plaintiffs from suing in Mississippi courts in pharmaceutical product liability cases.
  • Provide protection from lawsuits for doctors and pharmacists who prescribe or dispense FDA-approved drugs.
  • Modify rules for the way malpractice cases are joined together.
  • Disclose publicly the settlements in medical malpractice cases and the disciplinary histories of health care providers.
  • Provide protection from lawsuits for health care providers who give free physicals to high school students participating in sports or other extracurricular activities.

House and Senate committees have met this summer about medical malpractice coverage and general civil justice issues. The House has recommended a $500,000 cap on pain and suffering awards only in medical malpractice suits, with exceptions for gross negligence. The Senate has recommended a $250,000 cap for pain and suffering awards in all types of civil lawsuits.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol Sept. 5 for what Musgrove anticipates will be a two-day special session. He has set up a three-tiered agenda.

First, he wants lawmakers to approve a new spending bill for private prisons. After that, he wants them to consider establishing the insurance pool. Then, he wants them to consider general civil justice changes.