A remedy to hold down the escalating costs of medical malpractice insurance has received final approval from New Jersey lawmakers, two years after they first stated working on it.
The bill would create a $78 million fund to help physicians pay for insurance and set stricter guidelines for filing malpractice lawsuits. The measure had been delayed by trial attorneys arguing against proposed caps on malpractice settlements, which did not make it into the legislation.
The Assembly approved the bill by a vote of 45-25 with 8 members abstaining. The bill now heads to Gov. James E. McGreevey to become law.
“This comprehensive reform measure ensures that doctors will get the financial relief they deserve and patients will get the quality care they need,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Roberts, D-Camden.
The legislation creates a fund that will be available to doctors and hospitals for the next three years. It also provides money to hospitals that provide charity care and incentives to obstetricians who agree to practice in underserved areas.
The subsidies would be funded by doctors, lawyers, chiropractors and dentists who would pay a $75-a-year license fee. Hospitals and other health care employers would also pay a new $3 tax on each worker.
The bill also sets stricter guidelines for filing malpractice lawsuits, gives judges more leeway to control monetary awards and encourages mediation rather than court battles.
In addition, the law expands the Good Samaritan Act, which allows health care workers who respond to emergencies beyond their normal duties to receive protection from civil lawsuits.
Doctors, who had initially resisted any legislation without limits on malpractice awards, said the measure was only a start to fixing a complicated problem.
S. Manzoor Abidi, president of the New Jersey Medical Society, urged the governor to create a task force to provide a lasting solution to stem the rising costs of malpractice insurance.
“The financial stability of the few medical liability insurance providers willing to write in New Jersey continues to deteriorate,” Abidi said. “We are concerned that if more effective reforms are not enacted, neither these carriers nor physicians will be around in a few years.”
Republican Assemblyman Bill Baroni, R-Mercer, tried to amend the bill to include a $250,000 cap on payouts but was shut down by Assembly Democrats, who control the house.
“These runaway pain and suffering jury awards are driving doctors out of our state, especially OB/GYNS and neurosurgeons,” Baroni said.
A spokesman for McGreevey said the governor wants to take a final look at the bill before he commits to signing it.
“Access to health care is a priority,” said spokesman Micah Rasmussen. “We are pleased the Legislature has taken this positive step.”
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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