ISSUE: Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance
On the state level, policymakers are grappling with solutions to address New Jersey’s rapidly increasing medical malpractice liability insurance premiums. Many physician specialists have curtailed part of their practice, retired or moved to another state where malpractice insurance can be obtained at a lower price.
As a result, patients are increasingly at risk of not being able to find a doctor close to home. Specialties including obstetrics, neurosurgery, general surgery, and orthopedic surgery were among the most affected. In addition, New Jersey ranked third of the top ten states on a per capita basis for the amount of money paid out by insurers to cover malpractice lawsuits. As a result, several leading NJ medical malpractice insurance companies have become insolvent, while the remaining insurers face serious financial problems. In the NJ Legislature, more than 20 different bills have been introduced. Some propose caps on pain and suffering damage awards in malpractice lawsuits at $250,000 to $500,000. Others suggest higher deductibles, a tighter statute of limitations on malpractice claims and mediation before litigation.
Current Action by NJCTH:
None of the bills have passed both Houses of the Legislature; however, NJCTH has participated in a series of public hearings and meetings. In addition to maintaining contact with legislators and the Administration, and participating in statewide coalition activities, NJCTH’s Government Relations Committee has formed a Medical Malpractice Task Force to solidify recommendations and gather further information. The Council has put forth the following basic principles for tort reform:
- Establish caps on non-economic damages of $250,000 on physicians.
- Extend the existing $250,000 cap on hospital liability to cover hospital employees.
- Focus on patient safety and improve healthcare with the establishment of a system of “root cause analysis” for the reporting of medical errors, with discoverability protections for self-critical analysis of a hospital system, consistent with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital Organizations (JCAHO).
- Include a “Good Samaritan” provision to provide immunity to a healthcare professional who, in good faith, responds to a life-threatening emergency within a hospital when his duty does not require such a response.
- Impose a stricter statute of limitations of ten years for medical malpractice lawsuits for individuals injured at birth. The NJCTH will only support legislation that includes all five of these basic principles.