New Mexico Legislators Find Solutions to Out-of-State Liability Concerns

Patients in New Mexico who seek treatment from neighboring states now have more assurance that care will available to them without physicians feeling threatened by out-of-state liability laws.

The change in the law was necessitated following a case where a New Mexico patient who, after receiving treatment in Texas from a Texas physician, brought forward litigation under New Mexico tort laws, which do not include similar tort liability protections as Texas laws.

Without addressing the issue, patients faced limits in seeking care from out-of-state physicians.

“There were large practices [in Texas] where 60 percent of their patients are from New Mexico, and they were going to stop seeing those patients,” said Randy Marshall, executive director of the New Mexico Medical Society. “Some practices were already turning away patients.”

The bill, which took effect earlier this month and sunsets in three years, allows doctors in other states to request patients to sign a form stating that they would file any lawsuits in the state where the treatment was provided. The document would be admissible in court in both the home state of the patient and the state where any lawsuit is filed.

With patients throughout New Mexico relying heavily on Texas physicians and facilities, this new law will maintain access to those providers by limiting the risk and exposure to a more litigious liability environment and medical lawsuit abuse in states in which they do not practice.

To read more about the solutions given to New Mexican patients seeking out of state care, click here.

AHRQ Report Demonstrates Alternative Reforms in Action

Studying alternative solutions for medical liability reform, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently released the results of planning and demonstration grants awarded since 2010. The grants, totaling $22.3 million went to health care systems studying efforts to improve communication, patient safety, and positive outcomes, while also taking a look at non-traditional ways to settle claims.

Of the grants awarded for planning, three studied disclosure, apology, and offer programs designed to identify and efficiently work towards the resolution of legitimate claims, and a fourth led an effort to define clinical guideline safe harbors.

Capping the success of one of the disclosure, apology and offer grants, made to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, was the passage of a state law in Massachusetts enabling hospitals to use this method to settle legitimate claims.

But the results of a safe harbor planning grant leave more work to be done.

That grantee, the Office for Oregon Health Policy and Research, “found that a significant challenge to the safe harbor approach would be the development, adoption, and use of evidence-based medical guidelines addressing clinical situations that result in significant numbers of patient injuries and medical liability claims. Without such guidelines, a safe harbor rule would be ineffective.”

Demonstration grants, relying on further implementation and data collection, had mixed results.

For those grantees training health care providers on the University of Michigan Health System disclosure and resolution model, their projects reduced claims and improved attitudes about error disclosure. Less clear were the results on outcomes in which grantees used their funding to implement “best practices,” nor was it likely judge-directed negotiation would move forward as an alternative method of settling claims.

With the AHRQ acknowledging the complexity of our nation’s medical liability system, the agency noted that the benefit of their grant programs are often passed on to physicians and patients through tools and training, such as the CANDOR toolkit launched earlier this year.

Much of what was found as a result of the grants, including the further piloting of safe harbor guidelines before implementation at the federal level, align with the HCLA positions on liability reform.

The AHRQ grants demonstrate that there is a benefit to studying alternative liability reforms – but the reforms that remain proven to lower costs and increase access to care are those that take a comprehensive and all-around approach to medical liability reform.

Click here to read the full report on the planning grants, and here to see the results of the demonstrations.

Medical Liability Mentions

Medical liability was mentioned in Washington and Cleveland this month, as one bill moved closer to law and Republicans solidified their intention to make it a cornerstone of their health care reform efforts.

  • The Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act (H.R. 921) was reported out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month. The bill clarifies that sports medicine professionals may provide treatment to their athletes when they travel out-of-state, and that their medical liability coverage will follow them in such circumstances. This paves the way for a vote by the full House later this year.
  • Unveiled at this month’s Republican National Convention, the GOP platform included strong support for medical liability reforms at various levels of government. As adopted, the platform states, “We support state and federal legislation to cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, thereby relieving conscientious providers of burdens that are not rightly theirs and addressing a serious cause of higher medical bills.” The mention may be found on page 37 of the full party platform.