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Health care officials discuss raising medical malpractice cap, but urge caution

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Topeka — Officials representing doctors and hospitals on Friday said the state needs to increase the current $250,000 cap for pain and suffering in medical malpractice awards, but take its time doing it.

"That is probably something we are going to have to do in the next couple of years, to address the adequacy of the cap," said Jerry Slaughter, executive director of the Kansas Medical Society.

His comments were made during a meeting of the Health Care Stabilization Fund Oversight Committee.

In October, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the $250,000 cap, set in 1988, as constitutional in a case from Douglas County.

The case dealt with Amy Miller of Eudora, who in 2002 went in for surgery for removal of her right ovary. Dr. Carolyn Johnson, of Lawrence, removed her left ovary by mistake. A jury awarded Miller $400,000 for pain and suffering, but that was knocked back down to $250,000.

Slaughter said if the amount of the cap isn't increased, the state Supreme Court may take another look at it.

Opponents of the cap say it infringes on a basic right under the Kansas Constitution that a trial by jury shall be "inviolate." Just two months before the Kansas decision, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a cap on damages in that state.

Tom Bell, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Hospital Association, said he supported an increase in the cap in Kansas. "We just need to figure out what that amount is, and go about doing it," he said.

Bell and Slaughter praised the Kansas court's decision, saying it helped stabilize the health care system. Slaughter said the Medical Society wanted to bring in stakeholders and discuss the cap through 2013 and provide legislators with a proposal to increase it in 2014.

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