New Mexico lawmakers debate concerns over medical malpractice law

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SANTA FE, N.M. – A couple of weeks ago, 4 Investigates diagnosed a big problem for some of New Mexico’s doctors. They say a change to the state’s medical malpractice law means they can’t get insurers to cover them, and they’re searching for help at the Roundhouse.

Now, lawmakers in both chambers are trying to sort out a solution.

Senate Republicans say their main goal is to change the insurance requirements for outpatient clinics, and they are trying to do that through a series of recently introduced bills.

Senate Bill 296 – if passed – will change the definition of an independent provider to a “health care facility” that is licensed as an outpatient facility, but is not majority-owned or controlled by a hospital.

Now that is key to this bill to create separation between smaller facilities and large hospitals, because the way the law is currently written these independent facilities are treated the same as a hospital and required to have higher malpractice insurance. 

Doctors with these independent facilities say no insurance company will cover them, and without that insurance they would close.

“It’s a very simple common sense solution that we need to get passed, so these facilities are not closing down in the next couple of years because they can not get medical malpractice insurance. We have created a crisis and New Mexico has to fix this problem,” said state Sen. Mark Moores. 

“We don’t want a band-aid fix here, what we want to do is fix this industry on an ongoing basis, so we can keep our medical professionals in this state,” said state Sen. Gregory Baca.

Republican lawmakers also talked about three other bills that would change how medical malpractice laws work, like adding a cap to how much you can sue for, and creating new deductions of gross receipt taxes for medical providers.

These changes stem from a set of recommendations from the former secretary of insurance who raised the red flag on these issues the Republican party is calling a crisis

HB 500

A House committee just denied a similar plan from House Republicans to limit malpractice caps.

House Bill 500 takes a different approach, and it comes with a $70 million price tag, but it’s a plan the governor “fully supports.”

Instead of capping malpractice awards, it proposes to pay malpractice insurance premiums for medical providers.

It impacts independent providers who are not employed by a hospital or health system.

The fund the bill creates would pay up to 100% of those premiums, depending on how long providers have been practicing in New Mexico. It starts immediately for providers, with that 100% reimbursement coming in year 12.

Albuquerque Democratic Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil says she introduced the bill because with the session passed the halfway mark, she sees it as a workable solution.

“To help alleviate the load that they’re carrying right now, and it also kind of avoids some of the other political trappings that we’ve seen that can hold up some of these other bills. So I’m doing (House Bill) 500 because I think it’s realistic.” said Hochman-Vigil. 

Hochman-Vigil says a doctor versus trial lawyer’s argument doesn’t capture the nuance of the problem. Neither does a bunch of money, but at this point, it might be the bill that makes it across the finish line, as they say.

Republicans are almost guaranteed to not like this. They insist this is a problem the governor and Democrats created when they revised the medical malpractice act two years ago. 

Although supporters say it’s made a big difference for victims of malpractice.

Add the $70 million for malpractice premiums to everything else that’s advancing this session, and lawmakers are putting close to $400 million toward trying to keep and attract doctors.

Track SB 296 during the legislative session.

Track HB 500 during the legislative session.