State lawmakers continue debate on medical malpractice bills

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SANTA FE, N.M. – It’s the final week to send bills over to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her approval. There are now more concerns that lawmakers may not get to some of those most controversial issues this year.

On Saturday, there was a focus on medical malpractice, and bills that have sparked some drama in Santa Fe.

House Republicans attempted to pull a bill out of committee Saturday afternoon and bring it to the House floor for a debate and vote.

The bill would undo changes made in a 2021 law that many doctors say is preventing them from obtaining medical malpractice insurance – which they need to stay open.

That attempt was blocked by Democrats, but both sides do agree this medical malpractice issue needs to be addressed, and they know the clock is ticking.

“This is top of the priority list, we need to figure out a solution,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth. 

Wirth knows pressure is building in the Roundhouse to resolve the medical malpractice insurance problem.

“I will certainly acknowledge there’s an there’s an issue here, and we need to make some adjustments to the law to make this work,” said Wirth. 

Wirth is talking about the Medical Malpractice Act from 2021. That law raised the cap on payouts to victims in medical malpractice cases, but it also reclassified some independent outpatient health clinics as hospitals.

Doctors say that’s keeping them from getting insured, and lawmakers know what that means come January 1. 

“Their fear is if we continue to do, if this plan doesn’t get resolved, they’ll have to leave the state,” said Sen. David Gallegos. 

Multiple proposed solutions have stalled in House and Senate committees. 

House Republicans unsuccessfully tried to force one of those bills on the floor Saturday, it was another heartbreak for the doctors sitting above.

“I’m pretty discouraged, I don’t know where we go from here,” said Gastroenterologist Dr. Gabrielle Adams. 

“This is something that physicians have been willing to negotiate. We’ve been trying to sit at the table, because it’s important that it gets figured out. Medicine should never be a partisan issue,” said Retinal Surgeon Dr. Nathaniel Roybal.  

Wirth agrees, and says negotiations with Republican leaders, medical professionals, and trial attorneys are happening behind the scenes.

“We’re getting input from both sides, and really, at this point, now, you know, they need to get down, and we’ve got to get them to the table and figure out a compromise here that gets it done,” said Wirth.  

Wirth suggested that a compromise could include a third level of classification in-between hospitals and independent doctors, but admits they’re still working on the language.

“The governor has made it very clear, she wants a solution here, and so again, this is top of the list,” Wirth said.

The doctors are holding their breath.

“This isn’t about politics, this is about health care. This is about our families having access to doctors, it’s as simple as that,” said Roybal.  

Wirth is confident lawmakers can pull a compromise together before next Saturday’s deadline. He referenced the original Medical Malpractice Act  which also came together at the last minute.

However, some might argue that lead to this situation in the first place. 

Some doctors at the Roundhouse Saturday were at the center of a different, heated confrontation in the Senate gallery.

A video from Daniel Chacon at the Santa Fe New Mexican showed the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms – who essentially acts as a security guard during meetings – chewed out a group of doctors before the floor session began.

“When we are on this floor, if you say one word from up there, if you wave, if you clap, if you do any of that, ALL of you are out of this building. Do you understand?…. Somebody say something! ‘Yes ma’am.’ You will NOT disrupt this meeting. Period.” 

It was a reaction to an incident in a committee meeting earlier Saturday.

State Sen. Craig Brandt addressed the lack of action on the medical malpractice issue, and a proposed solution that was previously tabled by the committee. He then recognized all the doctors sitting in on that committee meeting which resulted in an applause and standing ovation, which was considered a significant disruption.