Aug. 26—Because New Mexico is considered a plaintiff-friendly state with high payouts from medical malpractice lawsuits, rural hospital officials say they are struggling to find insurance coverage.

One of the many hospitals across the state that is dealing with this issue is Roosevelt General Hospital in Portales.

New Mexico has established medical liability limits, but the maximums keep rising, said Kaye Green, RGH’s chief executive.

“The limit now is $4.5 million,” Green said. “It started out at $4 million, and then it was to increase by $500,000 every year until 2027, in which it would cap at a $6 million payout.”

Green told The News that various insurance carriers refer to the state as a “brutal New Mexico venue” referencing the plaintiff-friendly environment.

But Brian Egolf, a former New Mexico lawmaker, told The News, “When a multi-billion dollar insurance industry claims it’s ‘brutal’ to pay patients what they deserve, they are clearly concerned about their own profit margins, not the innocent patients harmed by negligent errors.”

Egolf supported the medical malpractice reform law that was passed in 2021, but he is wary of efforts to lessen medical liability.

“So-called ‘tort reform’ is a corporate agenda set by a multi-billion-dollar industry to avoid paying families what a jury has decided these families deserve,” Egolf said.

While other states are lowering the limits, New Mexico has actually increased limits with that legislation.

Green said when RGH tried to renew its medical malpractice insurance this year, the quote was $820,000. Two years ago, she said her premium was $330,000. Last year, it was up to about $690,000.

“It has more than doubled in just three years,” Green said.

“It’s a terrible circle we’ve got going here,” said state Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview.

Woods believes that because of New Mexico’s high Medicaid population and a high population with no insurance whatsoever, he’s afraid rural hospitals in the state will lose emergency room care.

“We need the rural hospitals for those circumstances to get you stabilized and get you moved,” Woods said.

Green said when RGH’s broker sought quotes from insurance companies, 10 out of the 12 companies asked declined because they are no longer providing insurance in the state of New Mexico.

“That’s why a lot of physicians don’t want to move to New Mexico,” Green said.

Woods agreed, telling the News, “We need more doctors. Medical malpractice is one factor driving doctors out of our state.”

Egolf said hospitals and doctors throughout New Mexico supported the medical malpractice reform law that was passed in 2021.

“Undoing that important change in the law will deny justice to harmed patients and allow insurance companies to evade responsibility for compensating harmed families,” Egolf said.

Egolf believes that New Mexico has no business giving the multi-billion-dollar insurance industry a break “when people in our state are suffering.”

“We know that accountability for big corporations is the only mechanism that keeps patients safe,” he said. “Without accountability and transparency, what incentive do systems have to change dangerous practices that harm patients?”

In the legislative session this year, Green said lawmakers set aside $80 million in support of rural health care. “It was specifically for new services or expanded services,” she said.

“Most of us (rural hospitals) are running in the red or we’re already at operating losses. We are requesting that legislation be modified. So that $80 million could also help rural hospitals,” Green said.

“The only solutions I see is to get the rural hospitals more money to open the doors first,” Woods said.