In January, Missouri legislators introduced the “Volunteer Health Services Act.” The bill expands health care access for low-income residents by eliminating the regulatory barriers Missouri previously imposed on out-of-state doctors and other clinicians who want to provide free charitable care to Missouri’s poor. Yes, every state government prevents some doctors from giving away free medical care to the poor. As I wrote in “50 Vetoes:”
Volunteer groups like Remote Area Medical engage doctors and other clinicians from around the country to treat indigent patients in rural and inner-city areas. States often prevent these clinicians from providing free medical care to the poor because, while they are licensed to practice medicine in their own states, they are not licensed to practice medicine where Remote Area Medical is holding its clinics.
Remote Area Medical has had to turn away patients or scrap clinics in California, Florida, and Georgia…After a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri, Remote Area Medical arrived with a mobile eyeglass lab, yet state officials prohibited the visiting optometrists from giving away free glasses.
It appears that Missouri legislators, if not the governor, have learned their lesson. The legislature approved the Volunteer Health Services Act in May, and sent it to Gov. Jay Nixon (D), who vetoed it. But yesterday, both the Missouri House and Senate voted to override the governor’s veto. Missouri now joins states like Tennessee, Illinois, and Connecticut that have enacted similar Good Samaritan laws.
The Missouri law also shields clinicians from liability for simple negligence in malpractice actions. I’m not a really a fan of letting legislatures shield doctors from liability for their own negligence. In my view, doctors and patients should choose and adopt their own med-mal rules via contract. But this part of the law may have little effect. Missouri’s Volunteer Health Services Act still leaves clinicians liable for injuries resulting from gross negligence, and judges and juries may weaken this shield by stretching the definition of “gross” negligence.
Rather than enact massive and unaffordable new entitlement programs like ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, states should follow Missouri’s lead and eliminate this and other barriers that government puts in the way of getting health care to the poor.