Fixing the Ill Effects of New Mexico’s Liability Changes

While efforts in 2021 to modernize medical liability laws in New Mexico were well-intended, the aftereffects have left a gap in coverage for hospitals and outpatient health care facilities (OPHCFs) that requires amending the recently passed law.

In an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, former State Superintendent of Insurance Don Letherer highlights the dangers of this exposure for health care facilities and the patients in need of their services.

The updates to the New Mexico Medical Malpractice Act added a second layer of increased liability limits for hospitals and OPHCFs, boosting the $600,000 limit passed in 1976 to $4 million starting January 1, 2022, to $6 million in 2026.

Letherer explains that “the $750K basic limits cap and the additional layers of exposure create a gap in coverage for hospitals and OPHCFs, which are uninsured for claims exceeding $750K for medical liability claims up to $4 million in 2022 increasing to $6 million in 2026.” The bill, HB 75, “destroys any semblance of a limited medical liability cap for hospitals and OPHCFs.”

Letherer cited a national study of medical liability claims demonstrating that while loss values greater than $1 million represent only 4% of the total number of claims, in terms of loss dollars, these large claims represent 60% of all judgments paid out.

With such analysis highlighting the costs borne by health care facilities and patients, New Mexico’s health care system requires a “reasonable and fair government-sponsored limitation to excessive medical accident claims, especially non-economic claims.”

To read more about the need to amend New Mexico’s liability laws, click here.

Following publication of the article, Dr. Bill Ritchie, a New Mexico physician and Chair of the AAOS Patient Compensation Fund Advisory Board, reached out to Protect Patients Now and reflected on the current environment in the state.  “Physician-owned OPHCFs in particular are finding no insurers willing to write policies for the increased limits,” he noted. In further highlighting the need to address New Mexico’s liability situation, Dr. Ritchie commented that “while a patient compensation fund covers future medical costs over and above the limits, the fund currently has a deficit of almost $80 million.”

Doctors Face Difficulties Practicing in New York

Reports continue to highlight the fragile state of health care in New York, as a poor liability climate makes it challenging to attract and retain physicians.

Dr. Joseph Sellers, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, explains the evidence supporting a recent declaration that the state was at a disadvantage in growing its physician population.

“…Across the state we are facing shortages of physicians as baby boomer doctors retire and newly trained physicians choose to locate to practice in friendlier states,” Sellers said.

He lists regulations, antiquated mandates, high liability risks and insurance expenses as the top reasons that physicians are avoiding, and retiring from, practicing in New York.

In New York, liability costs and risks are “far higher than any other state. Collectively, we pay twice the dollars but only have half the population of California here in New York,” Sellers explains.

Unlike many other states, New York has not worked to mitigate such impacts on physicians and patients and, more often than not, has implemented policies that make the environment even more challenging for physicians and that harm patient access to care.

To read more about the increasingly difficult liability climate in New York, click here.

 North Carolina Liability Ruling Puts Nurses at Risk

In the latest blow to nurses, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned 90 years of precedent in a recent ruling that opens new avenues for liability lawsuits.

Under longstanding law, nurses in North Carolina who follow the orders of a physician are not ordinarily liable for the care they provide to patients. Now, a state Supreme Court ruling harms front-line critical care efforts from providers who are already stretched thin.

The ruling was reached by a 3-2 majority, with Justice Tamara Barringer drafting a dissent highlighting the court’s overreach.

“In judicially changing this standard, the three-justice majority appears to create liability without causation — allowing a nurse to be held liable for negligent collaboration in the treatment ultimately chosen by the physician,” Justice Barringer wrote. Her opinion was that the state legislature, not the Supreme Court, should consider such a policy change.

The ruling will likely further reduce the population of nurses across the state.

“[Nurses] are already short-staffed,” commented Ashley Hughes, a critical care nurse and legal nurse consultant. “On top of that, there is the issue of violence against nurses, nurses are being attacked. There’s the issues about the pay nurses not being paid appropriately.”

To read more about the new risks nurses face and the effect on access to care, click here.