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The facts about Christus St. Vincent, malpractice fund

The opinion column written by Dr. Barbara McAneny in the Albuquerque Journal (Feb. 19) misrepresents the facts about Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center’s (CSVRMC) participation in New Mexico’s Patient Compensation Fund (PCF). As the only hospital named in her opinion, we feel the need to respond to correct the record on behalf of our providers and the patients we are privileged to serve.

• CSVRMC applied for participation in the fund in 2009 because in 1976 the New Mexico Malpractice Act Section 41-5-3 was written to allow hospitals to be covered as participants in the PCF.

• CSVRMC underwent underwriting, providing required data to the actuaries of the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance (OSI). From this data, they based their recommendation of a significant surcharge for participation in the PCF and qualified CSVRMC as a provider. This standard process was neither secret nor a special deal. This is the same process that other New Mexico hospitals have undergone to participate in the PCF. As part of its participation in the PCF, CSVRMC has paid yearly surcharges for the past 12 years.

• As a result of participation, CSVRMC and other hospitals are excluded from the three-occurrence limit per the statute. This has allowed physicians a high degree of confidence that hospitals are better positioned to work alongside them in protecting the delivery of health care across New Mexico because hospitals share in the malpractice risk.

A fully functioning PCF that includes hospitals and physicians is vital to providing the malpractice coverage that health care providers need to stay in the state. Hospital participation in the fund has strengthened the fund and allowed for a cohesive and fair adjudication of disputes on a playing field that the New Mexico Legislature has supported since its passage 45 years ago.

House Bill 75 is making its way through the Legislature. It would remove hospitals from the PCF and would eliminate a hospital’s ability to obtain reasonable insurance coverage. In addition, HB 75 will inhibit the ability to recruit and retain providers to the state. N.M. hospitals employ a high percentage of the state’s doctors who are counting on the PCF to keep malpractice insurance costs fair. Reasonable malpractice costs are key to attracting and retaining health care professionals. The rural parts of our state already struggle with inadequate access to care, and this proposed legislation will only exacerbate this situation as physicians and specialists will leave the state for other locations where they can purchase the insurance coverage they need and can reasonably afford.

There is a similar bill making its way through this legislative session which is far more favorable. Senate Bill 239 seeks to protect patients and clinicians by preserving hospital participation in the PCF, and ensuring that funds are available to adequately compensate patients who have been injured in the rare event of medical malpractice. To reinforce the viability of the PCF for the long term, SB 239 was drafted in large part from analysis completed by the OSI.

SB 239 is supported by the New Mexico Clinician Coalition. This bill reflects the urgency that clinicians across our state – including the overwhelming majority of physicians, nurses and hospitals – feel to develop a comprehensive fix to the Medical Malpractice Act. Any legislation should be structured to keep the PCF as strong as possible, for as long as possible.

I’m proud that Christus St. Vincent is a not-for-profit entity, that zero funds have left New Mexico from its operations and that its funds are 100% re-invested to provide excellent health care delivery in Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico. Avenues such as the PCF allow them and other hospitals to maximize their investments in delivering high-quality care to our community.

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