House passes compromise bill on medical malpractice payouts

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A bill brokered this week by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Senate leaders from both parties — hailed as a compromise in an emotional debate over rising medical malpractice costs — passed the House of Representatives in a 63-0 vote Thursday. 

Senate Bill 523, drafted in a deal with trial lawyers and health care professionals, will cap medical malpractice payouts for independent outpatient clinics at $1 million, which they say will allow them to obtain malpractice insurance and keep their doors open. Under a law that passed in 2021, some clinics were swept into the same category as hospitals and were set to see the cap on their potential payouts in medical malpractice cases rise to $6 million by 2027 from $750,000 now. Many doctors and other medical professionals whose practices would be affected by the steep increase said they wouldn’t be able to obtain or couldn’t afford to obtain insurance with a cap that high. They warned smaller operations — including ambulatory surgical facilities, standalone emergency rooms and urgent care clinics — would have to close or move out of state to survive. They urged the Legislature to act.

Senate passes bipartisan bill to address medical malpractice payout caps

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

With less than 72 hours left in the 60-day legislative session, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday designed to address concerns over looming changes to New Mexico’s medical malpractice law, which doctors and other providers have been pleading with lawmakers to resolve for weeks. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe described Senate Bill 523 as a hard-fought compromise between the New Mexico Medical Society and the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association that will allow independent clinics to obtain medical malpractice insurance. “It took everything we had over the last three weeks to get these parties to the point where they could settle,” Wirth said. “Am I frustrated that it happened in the last three days? Yeah, because it puts us in a place where we do have to expedite this,” he added.

Governor announces compromise measure on medical malpractice payouts

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexico

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced a bipartisan comprise to curb rising medical malpractice payout caps — a deal that advocates on both sides of an emotional debate at the Capitol hope will prevent several independent outpatient clinics in New Mexico from shutting down. Some standalone emergency rooms, urgent care centers and surgical clinics with maximum malpractice payouts now set at $750,000 would see that cap rise to $6 million by 2027 under a law that swept them into the same category as hospitals. They have argued they will be unable to afford or even obtain malpractice insurance with a cap that high. Patient advocates, meanwhile, have questioned those claims and argued patients who face lifelong effects of medical procedures gone wrong deserve fair compensation. Under Senate Bill 523, introduced Tuesday in the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee, those small, independent medical practices would see a permanent payout cap of $1 million starting in 2024.

Doctors push for medical malpractice changes

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

While state lawmakers tackle a number of key issues this session that grab the public’s attention— crime, public education, rebate checks — there are any number of lower-profile ones that keep popping up and down like inflatable punching bags. 

Like medical malpractice, to name one. A moving current of white medical coats — with professional practitioners within them — showed up in force at the Roundhouse Saturday to remind lawmakers the issue is very much alive in their minds. Their goal is to pressure lawmakers to act on a stalled bill that would cap medical malpractice payouts at $750,000 for independent outpatient health care facilities that are not majority-owned by a hospital. Otherwise, advocates for Senate Bill 296 say, some independent providers will find themselves looking for insurance to cover medical malpractice caps of $6 million by 2027 — the rate for hospitals. And if they can’t find or afford that insurance, they will close up shop, retire early or relocate to another state, they say. 

Dr. Gabrielle Adams, president of Albuquerque-based Southwest Gastroenterology, said the health care professionals wanted to show lawmakers “this is a problem that will not go away.”

Another medical malpractice fix bill tabled

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A bipartisan bill that would have left the cap on medical malpractice payouts for independent outpatient health care facilities at $750,000 for another two years stalled Thursday in the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee. Supporters said the measure was designed to fix a flaw in the state’s medical malpractice law that has left health care facilities that are not majority-owned by a hospital unable to obtain medical malpractice insurance — further exacerbating New Mexico’s shortage of doctors. After a two-hour discussion and debate in a packed room, the committee tabled Senate Bill 296 on a 5-4 vote along party lines, with Democrats preventing the proposal from advancing. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, who is co-sponsoring SB 296 with Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, said the proposal had been drafted in consultation with the Governor’s Office. The proposal called for a two-year delay on a looming increase in the caps on medical malpractice payouts for independent outpatient facilities, as well as the creation of a task force comprised of doctors, medical malpractice attorneys and others to study the issue and make recommendations.