Legalese: Charity Care
Many physicians across Mississippi provide charitable medical care at free clinics and in response to emergency situations such as hurricanes and floods. This is an admirable undertaking that makes a huge impact on the patients and communities being served. In an effort to remove barriers for physicians wishing to provide charitable care, MSMA worked with the state legislature in 1993 to pass a law providing immunity for such services. While physicians providing medical care during an emergency receive civil immunity automatically, physicians must obtain a medical waiver to receive immunity when providing charitable care in other settings, like a free clinic. This little-known nuance can make a sizeable impact on the defenses available in a malpractice case.
MS Code §73-25-38(1) Any licensed physician, physician assistant or certified nurse practitioner who voluntarily provides needed medical or health services to any person without the expectation of payment due to the inability of such person to pay for said services shall be immune from liability for any civil action arising out of the provision of such medical or health services provided in good faith on a charitable basis. This section shall not extend immunity to acts of willful or gross negligence. Except in cases of rendering emergency care wherein the provisions of Section 73-25-37 apply, immunity under this section shall be extended only if the physician, physician assistant or certified nurse practitioner and patient execute a written waiver in advance of the rendering of such medical services specifying that such services are provided without the expectation of payment and that the licensed physician or certified nurse practitioner shall be immune as provided in this subsection. The immunity from liability granted by this subsection also shall extend to actions arising from a church-operated outpatient medical clinic that exists solely for the purpose of providing charitable medical services to persons who are unable to pay for such services, provided that the outpatient clinic receives less than Forty Thousand Dollars ($ 40,000.00) annually in patient payments.
MS Code §73-25-38(2) Any licensed physician, physician assistant or certified nurse practitioner assisting with emergency management, emergency operations or hazard mitigation in response to any emergency, man-made or natural disaster, who voluntarily provides needed medical or health services to any person without fee or other compensation, shall not be liable for civil damages on the basis of any act or omission if the physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner was acting in good faith and within the scope of their license, education and training and the acts or omissions were not caused from gross, willful or wanton acts of negligence.
To utilize the immunity available, a physician would need to have the patient sign a written waiver in advance that explicitly states that the services are provided without the expectation of payment and that the provider shall be immune from liability. Such a waiver may already be available at the free clinic at which you volunteer, and if not, then you should develop one immediately. Like many tools out there, they only work if you use them. Once the waiver is signed, be sure to place a copy in the patient’s file.