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Medical malpractice changes signed into law

In this file photo from last month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs into law a bill authorizing $200 million in grants for small businesses statewide. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Thursday overhauling New Mexico’s medical malpractice law and cementing a hard-fought compromise by lawyers, doctors and hospitals.

The bill was at the center of some of the Legislature’s most emotional debates this year, as families testified about the anguish of losing a loved one after medical wrongdoing.

Competing plans to reshape the state’s Medical Malpractice Act – which imposes a $600,000 cap on damages – moved through the Legislature for much of the 60-day session, with lawyers and health care providers on opposite sides of the debate.

But they later reached agreement on a complex compromise and backed the revised proposal, House Bill 75.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett announced the governor’s signing of the legislation.

“Key stakeholders convened to craft the compromise measure at the governor’s behest,” Sackett said, “and she was glad to sign a bill that balances concerns between providers and patients.”

The measure is designed to strike a balance between granting New Mexico doctors access to affordable legal insurance while also ensuring patients harmed by wrongdoing can get justice in court.

The bill calls for:

⋄ Raising the damages cap for hospitals and outpatient facilities to $4 million next year with eventual increases to $6 million.

⋄ Increasing the damages cap for independent physicians and other providers to $750,000.

⋄ Adding certified nurse practitioners, midwives and certain other health care providers into coverage under the law, a move intended to help improve the finances of a patient compensation fund.

Troy Clark, president and CEO of the New Mexico Hospital Association, said the legislation was a true compromise that should ensure patients throughout the state can obtain health care when they need it.

“Obviously, it’s not everything we would have liked and hoped for – for hospitals throughout the state,” Clark said. “However, we are pleased that we were able to get to a point in the compromise that we feel helped protect the ability to recruit and retain physicians to ensure patients will continue to have access.”

House Bill 75 was sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales.

Lawmakers faced urgency to revise the medical malpractice system because of the growing strain on the state’s patient compensation fund, which helps cover the cost of certain legal claims, with help from a $600,000 cap on certain damages.

Lujan Grisham faces an April 9 deadline to act on bills passed in the 60-day session that ended March 20. She has until April 20 to act on bills passed in this week’s special session.

In addition to medical malpractice changes, the governor also signed bills Thursday that make $7 million available to carry out cannabis legalization and that enact temporary election procedures for the contest to fill the 1st Congressional District seat.

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