Yes, it is a Crisis
Ever-increasing medical malpractice premiums in New Jersey are negatively impacting the cost of our healthcare, and our access to doctors in New Jersey. This undesirable reality prompted Assemblywomen Alison Littell McHose (R-Sussex), Amy H. Handlin (R-Monmouth), and Grace Spencer (D-Essex) to address the Legislature during Monday’s Assembly voting session.
On the agenda was A-4245, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Spencer. This legislation- a partial step forward, by all accounts - revises the approval process for rate changes applicable to medical malpractice insurance. It gives the Commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) the ability to designate a range for annual rate changes, which “shall be an increase or decrease of between not less than 5% and not more than 15%,” pursuant to the health care provider’s specialty. This would protect doctors from stark increases from one year to the next, but as Assemblywoman Handlin pointed out, “When your premium is an already outrageous $100,000.00, it doesn’t help you much to be able to predict that it will go up to $115,000.00.” Handlin also warned that “we [the Legislature] can’t allow this legislation to lull us into complacency about the medical malpractice insurance crisis, and yes, it is a crisis.”
Assemblywoman McHose pointed out that this legislation “does nothing to reduce or effectuate tort reform as it relates to medical malpractice,” and that while it enables DOBI to set guidelines, “it won’t provide relief.” Hoping to seize an opportunity, she proposed amendments to A-4245 to cap noneconomic damage awards against medical professionals at $250,000. Unfortunately, the motion to amend was tabled.
Despite the Assembly’s failure to take an additional step to address medical malpractice reform, it is encouraging that Assemblywomen McHose, Handlin, and Spencer agree that this issue is far from settled.
You can listen to the remarks of Assemblywomen McHose and Handlin by selecting the December 7, 2009, voting session here, and pointing your mouse at the approximate 1:45:50 timestamp.