Issue: Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance

On the state level, policymakers are grappling with solutions to address New Jersey’s rapidly increasing medical malpractice liability insurance premiums. Many physician specialists have curtailed part of their practice, retired or moved to another state where malpractice insurance can be obtained at a lower price. As a result, patients are increasingly at risk of not being able to find a doctor close to home. It has been reported that the hardest-hit specialties are obstetrics, neurosurgery, general surgery, and orthopedic surgery. The impact on New Jersey consumers will be felt throughout 2003 as physicians and surgeons decide whether to move to another state, retire from their practice, or reduce the scope of their practice. In 2001, New Jersey ranked third of the top ten states on a per capita basis for the amount of money paid out by insurers to cover malpractice lawsuits. As a result, is it not surprising that several of New Jersey’s leading medical malpractice insurance companies have become insolvent, while the remaining insurers are facing serious financial problems. The Department of Banking and Insurance has approved the “New Jersey Pure” and “Coventis;” however these newly-formed companies will not provide immediate relief to physicians who can’t afford insurance. In the New Jersey Legislature, more than 20 different bills have been introduced. Some propose caps on pain and suffering damage awards in malpractice lawsuits at $250,000 to $500,000. Others suggest higher deductibles, a tighter statute of limitations on malpractice claims and mediation before litigation.

Current Action by NJCTH:
None of the bills have passed both Houses of the Legislature; however, there have been a series of public hearings and meeting in which NJCTH has participated. In addition to maintaining contact with legislators and the Administration and participating in statewide coalition activities, NJCTH’s Government Relations Committee has formed a Medical Malpractice Task Force to solidify recommendations and to gather further information. The Council has put forth the following basic principles for tort reform:

  1. Establish caps on non-economic damages of $250,000 on physicians.
  2. Extend the existing $250,000 cap on hospital liability to cover hospital employees.
  3. Focus on patient safety and improve healthcare with the establishment of a system of “root cause analysis” for the reporting of medical errors, with discoverability protections for self-critical analysis of a hospital system, consistent with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital Organizations (JCAHO).
  4. Include a “good Samaritan” provision to provide immunity to a healthcare professional who, in good faith, responds to a life-threatening emergency within a hospital when his duty does not require such a response.
  5. Impose a stricter statute of limitations of ten years for medical malpractice lawsuits for individuals injured at birth. The NJCTH will only support legislation that includes all five of these basic principles.

For more information:

From NJCTH (recent documents listed first):
NJCTH Legislative Highlights - Issue # 4-03
NJCTH Legislative Highlights - Issue # 3-03
Medical Malpractice Coalition Letter Supporting A-50 (3R) Sent April 25, 2003

NJCTH Legislative Highlights - Issue # 2-03
NJCTH Legislative Highlights - Issue # 1-03

From Sister Organizations:
American Hospital Association Website