The state House has given initial approval to a bill that would cap the amount that could be awarded to plaintiffs for non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Representative Eric Burlison (Photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Eric Burlison (Photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill sponsored by Representative Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) would limit such damages to $350,000 but would not apply to damages such as lost wages or hospital bills.

Supporters say the bill is needed to keep medical malpractice insurance premiums paid by doctors low, thereby making it easier for doctors to stay in business in Missouri and keeping the cost of health care down. Opponents say the bill infringes on the rights of Missourians to have a jury decide what appropriate damages would be.

The proposal is a priority of House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka), who says since the state Supreme Court threw out such caps in 2012 Missouri is at risk for rising health care costs, lesser quality of care and a struggle to get health care professionals to come to or stay in the state.

Four House Republicans testified against the proposal during debate on Wednesday. Representative John McCaherty (R-High Ridge) says he will be one of those voting against the proposal.

“Understand that whatever number you set,” he says of the $350,000 cap, “that’s a real person. If it’s my wife or it’s my kid, I want them to have their day in court. I want my day in court. That’s what our Constitution guarantees us.”

The legislation drew criticism from several Democrats as well, including Representative Stephen Webber (Columbia).

“There are egregious examples that I think any one of us individually looking at would say, ‘$350,000 is not enough,'” Webber says. “But today we’re going to paint with a broad brush all those cases and remove that ability of folks to make that decision.”

Burlison says doctors have asked him to continue to support the issue.

“I had an OB-GYN say, ‘These caps are gone. All of what I would take home is going to pay for premiums. I’m closing shop. There’s no reason to keep the lights on anymore,’ and I don’t blame them.”

Another favorable vote would send the legislation to the Senate.