New Jersey Eyes Help for Patients after Medical Errors

By | November 3, 2008

New Jersey hospital patients and the companies insuring them would no longer be on the hook to pay for care after a serious medical error occurs, under legislation introduced this month by a New Jersey assemblyman.

The measure mirrors new federal restrictions refusing Medicare reimbursement for care resulting from mistakes.

A new state law is needed so that privately insured patients and those with no insurance at all are protected like those on Medicare, said the AARP’s Douglas Johnston.

“The AARP supports the bill 100 percent,” said Johnston. “The federal government and the state government are implementing and developing policies to improve health care quality and save tax dollars by determining a very specific list of preventable medical errors — the worst of the worst that end up killing or severely injuring patients.”

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty’s bill would prohibit New Jersey hospitals from charging for treating hospital-acquired conditions such as when an object is left inside a body during surgery, surgical-site infections, urinary tract infections resulting from a catheter, receiving incompatible blood, and others.

The bill awaits a hearing in the Assembly health committee.

“Patients rightly expect that their safety and well-being will be protected when they visit a hospital,” said Moriarty, D-Gloucester. “When that expectation is invalidated because of a medical error that should never have occurred, the doctor who made the error — not the patient — should be the one on the hook.”

The new federal rules went into effect Oct. 1. Similar rules for state Medicaid patients are being drafted.

State Health Department spokeswoman Marilyn Riley said Moriarty’s proposal is being reviewed.

The rules specify 12 hospital-acquired conditions for which aftercare will not be paid, whether it’s extra time in the hospital, additional surgery to fix the mistake or expensive antibiotics to fight infection.

There are at least 20 other states in which similar no-pay policies are being pursued, said AARP’s Patricia Kelmar.

Some 450 preventable medical mistakes errors occurred in New Jersey hospitals and health facilities in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available. In 2005, the first year in which such data was collected, 376 errors were reported. Ninety-nine people died because of the mistakes in those two years.

AARP also supports a legislative change to the Patient Safety Act that would require the Health Department to release a yearly facility-by-facility reporting of preventable medical errors. The Health Department already collects the data and reports it, but does not identify the hospitals and health care facilities where mistakes occur.

That bill would enable patients to compare health care facilities in specific categories, according to the bill’s sponsors, Moriarty, Assemblyman Douglas Fisher and Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein. The proposal gives patients a snapshot of which hospitals are safest and which have the most slip-ups in specific areas of care.

The New Jersey Hospital Association opposes the bill.

Association spokeswoman Kerry McKean Kelly said the Patient Safety Act provides valuable information to improve health care quality, and amending it would be a mistake. She said other sources are being looked at to provide facility by facility data on errors.

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