Of the long list of prefiled bills for the Missouri 2013 legislative session, one has potential to effect mental health professionals in the area.
House Bill 1083, filed by Rep. John McCaherty, R-High Ridge, clarifies and includes mental health professionals among the numerous types of medical employees within a two-year limitation for liability claims. If the bill is passed and becomes law in August 2014, clients of mental health professionals will be limited to two years to file a lawsuit against a psychologist, counselor, etc., after the date of occurrence.
The current law specifically lists eight medical professions, including dentists, podiatrists and chiropractors, along with hospitals that are within the two-year statute of limitations before stating "any other entity providing health care services."
McCaherty said while that phrase ideally includes mental health professionals, he hopes his bill would eliminate any gray area. He added that he has no idea why the bill, enacted in 2005, didn't originally include mental health professionals, but thinks the addition is appropriate with society's increased focus on mental health issues.
"Maybe when (the original bill) was written (mental health) wasn't on the radar screen," McCaherty said.
The bill was birthed after McCaherty spoke with professors from the counseling department at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis. He said the professors told him that without a statute of limitations, counselors and other mental health professionals were keeping their records for many years in case a client or patient ever filed a suit.
Along with storing those records, McCaherty said with a limitation, mental health professionals can work with less pressure.
"The biggest benefit is the security of knowing there is a two-year limit and enjoying the ability to have lower malpractice insurance," McCaherty said.
Cindi Keele, the executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Health Missouri chapter, said a two-year limitation is fair to mental health professionals and that those providers should have the same statute as other medical professionals.
She added that the change in language could encourage more young people to go into mental health professions. Keele said malpractice suits tend to scare away college students from going into the mental health field, and that could be lessened by taking out the "iffy-ness" of the bill.
Marty Martin-Forman, Chief Operating Officer at the Fulton State Hospital, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health declined to comment.
The 2014 legislative session begins on Jan. 8 in Jefferson City.