Governor, lawmakers attempt to revive medical malpractice law
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SANTA FE, N.M. – After almost two weeks in legislative intensive care, there’s new life for an attempt to fix a medical malpractice law.
Some doctors have warned they could be on the brink of selling out or leaving the state.
Patients and lawyers, though, said any changes could leave them exposed to huge costs of putting their lives back together after malpractice.
On Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was joined by Democratic and Republican Senate leaders to talk about the compromise made to address this issue.
The 4 Investigates team has been working on the impact of this new law and the urgency to find a solution since before the session began.
This affects doctors who own outpatient clinics, think of places like endoscopy centers, outpatient surgery centers, and specialists who serve thousands of New Mexicans a year.
These independently-owned practices were required to get the same level of insurance as a hospital, but those doctors say no insurance company would cover them.
New Mexico has a dual system of malpractice insurance, there’s the private market and there’s the patient compensation fund, which is a pool administered by the state and paid into by covered medical providers. It’s designed to keep insurance costs low which is an attractive option for doctors.
So, we’re talking about changes to the patient compensation fund which can pay lifetime costs of medical care after a malpractice settlement.
Right now, the fund has one level for doctors: $750,000. These facilities are grouped together with hospitals, and on Jan. 1 next year, their award cap rises to $5 million. There’s an inflation adjustment for each level.
THE NEW PLAN
The new plan creates a third tier closer to individual doctors than hospitals of $1 million.
Insurers have apparently said in writing that they’ll write policies for this plan, and both medical providers, and trial lawyers were at the table for this.
KOB 4 talked to a patient advocate Tuesday who said patients were not at the table, and the million dollar limit is too low.
Still, this is the plan, and it’s being touted as a real fix and not just a band-aid.
Because this is such a late-mover, it needs to get through each chamber with little to no amending. It’s not likely there’s any more time to tweak.
On Tuesday, Gov. Lujan Grisham and Senate leaders announced the compromise.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and Republican Minority Leader Gregory Baca have been working together on this bill since a Senate committee set it aside a week and a half ago.
A couple versions of this bill died in committee during this session, but the governor says she is confident this bill will make it to her desk because it was put together by both sides of the aisle.
After weeks of debating whether malpractice limits were too high and whether insurance for doctor-owned outpatient clinics was even available, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says Senate Democrats and Republicans came up with a solution she’ll sign.
“Now we have confirmation that the insurance policies that we need are available and affordable. Both, and that’s what we need. We didn’t have that assurance last year or the year before so you know the parties would say this tweak or this issue will make the difference- that part was missing, and now it’s not,” said Lujan Grisham.
Just days ago, a Senate committee tabled Senate Bill 296 which only offered a temporary solution. So, the sponsors of this new bill got to work on a compromise.
Wirth and Baca say their bill is a long term solution that will protect patients and keep doctors in the state.
“This compromise provides stability for current practices. It also creates more certainty for new outpatient facilities. Looking to open up in New Mexico, and patients who have been harmed are protected,” said Wirth.
“We had to find a solution that would keep the doctors here by allowing them to be insured, and also provide that compensation for those injured parties and their claims of malpractice at times,” said Baca.
This new bill has already passed the Senate Tax Committee Tuesday afternoon and is now on its way to the Senate floor. It could be debated there as early as Wednesday.