When we represent an injured person, we compile a detailed accounting of the medical bills they incurred as a result of their accident. The total dollar amount of these medical bills plays a role in determining a fair value of the claim. Missouri Senate Bill 31, recently signed by Gov. Eric Greitens, alters this calculation—to the detriment of Missourians.
The ruling changes what is called the collateral source rule and allows claimants/plaintiffs to claim only the amount actually paid for medical care, rather than the full amount billed. This skews the calculation in favor of the responsible party.
Health insurance companies typically negotiate lower rates with healthcare providers. For injured Missourians with health insurance, the amount paid for their care is typically lower than the market rate, and will vary based on their health insurance provider.
Allowing injured Missourians to claim only the amount actually paid for their medical bills gives the defendant—the person or company that caused an accident—the benefit of the health insurance the injured party paid for. In essence, it treats those with insurance worse than those without it. Not only is this intrinsically unfair, it ignores a longstanding common law principle under which a defendant cannot reduce their liability by claiming that another entity has already paid for part or all of the injuries (“collateral source” rule).
The main problem is the defendant gets the benefit of the injured person’s foresight to obtain health insurance and, more to the point, the defendant receives the benefit of the injured person’s willingness to work, since people typically have health insurance through work as part of their pay package. Contrast that with the person who has no health insurance and gets charged retail. They get to use that entire charge for their case. If they choose not to work or otherwise choose not to have health insurance, they actually have an advantage with their claim. They are treated better than the person who has health insurance.
The next question is, why does one class of person (people with health insurance, which as a society we are trying to encourage) get treated differently (to their disadvantage) than the person who has no health insurance (which we as a society are trying to discourage)? This calls for a Constitutional Equal Protection argument challenging the constitutionality of the statute, as the government is taking something away from a certain class of injured people (those with insurance) and treating them differently than another class of injured people (people without insurance). Unfortunately, the Courts have traditionally upheld this type of legislation.
The new law may violate the Missouri Constitution in another way as well, as it allows Missouri to sidestep the collateral source rule and dictate the value of certain elements of an injured person’s damages instead of allowing a jury to decide that, thus interfering with the complete right to trial.
The State will argue they have a rational basis for doing this in order to the reduce plaintiff’s awards. But that seems to only line insurance company pockets at the expense of injured Missourians. When is the last time your insurance company reduced premiums?
This ruling has already been approved by the Missouri legislature and signed by Gov. Greitens. It will apply to injuries that occur on or after the effective date of Aug. 28, 2017, so our current clients are not impacted.
At this point, the only recourse Missourians have is to hire a law firm that understands and is prepared to attempt to either avoid or minimize the impact this law has upon your rights. And of course, remember this at the voting booth. See how your state representative and senator voted on Senate Bill 31 here.