New Mexico governor adds medical malpractice bill to special session [The Santa Fe New Mexican]
Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)
Dec. 10—Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday asked state lawmakers to clear up language in a new medical malpractice law that critics say could inadvertently lead to shutdowns of small clinics.
The legislation was added on the fourth day of a special session focused on redistricting and allocating at least hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic aid.
The governor's request came just weeks before New Mexico's new Medical Malpractice Act is set go in effect Jan. 1.
That act puts a $4 million cap on malpractice claims against big hospitals in the state and a $750,000 limit for smaller providers.
But the law is unclear when it comes to independent providers who also serve as hospital contractors.
The problem, said Annie Jung, executive director of the New Mexico Medical Society, is that small providers cannot afford enough liability insurance to cover a $4 million malpractice payout.
In a worst-case scenario, she said, if the law is not amended, "outpatient health care facilities would not be able to find insurance, so they would close."
She said medical providers, lawyers and the Governor's Office began meeting to address the problem about a month ago.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the Governor's Office, wrote in an email the governor made her decision to add the legislation to the session "to make a technical fix to the act germane in the ongoing special session in order to avert any unintended consequences of the act as it is currently written."
Two Democratic lawmakers — Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil of Albuquerque and Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces — already have introduced legislation to address the problem. House Bill 11 would ensure independent providers do not pay more than $750,000 per claim for at least 18 months, a period that begins Jan. 1.
Jung said the legislation will also allow providers who work in a hospital to be covered under the hospital's insurance when they work there, so "you don't have to carry the larger policy as an independent when you are working in a hospital setting."
"Think of a pediatrician who has a day job, a little practice, but they go to the hospital to check out the babies," she said. "So when they go to the hospital and check on the little ones, if this bill goes through, they'll be covered."
The bill could be heard in a committee as soon as Friday morning. Jung said she is confident it will be adopted by the Legislature.
"If this does not go through, we'll be having a very different conversation," she added.
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