Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham authorized legislators Thursday to take emergency action to update New Mexico’s new medical malpractice law to address insurance concerns raised by independent medical practices and physicians.
She amended her proclamation for the special legislative session that began this week to allow lawmakers to take up a bill clarifying that independent physicians aren’t considered employees or agents of a hospital – and thus exposed to more legal liability – if they visit a hospital to perform surgery or handle other work.
The proposal, House Bill 11, makes other technical changes to the law, too, to clarify the legal liability for outpatient clinics.
Independent physicians and their medical practices warned legislators this week that they expected to close their offices or curtail operations Dec. 31 because of an inability to get insurance.
The concern surfaced after insurance carriers raised questions about how to interpret language in the new Medical Malpractice Act defining who in the health care system should be subject to a $4 million cap on certain legal damages and who faces a $750,000 cap.
Bipartisan legislation updating the act was passed earlier this year. It made hospitals subject to the higher cap and put independent physicians under the lower cap, but insurance carriers later questioned how to treat independent doctors who sometimes work at a hospital or who own and operate small clinics.
A coalition of trial lawyers, patients, physicians and hospitals reached agreement this week on what they described as technical fixes that would clarify the law to ensure it worked as intended.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, controls the agenda of the special session, and she agreed Thursday to add the issue to the list of topics legislators may take up.
Her office “met with all concerned parties after being made aware of the concerns and agreed to make a technical fix to the act germane in the ongoing special session in order to avert any unintended consequences of the act as it is currently written,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said.
The proposal is expected to go before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday morning and could reach the full House for consideration late in the day. It would also need Senate approval to reach the governor.
Besides the medical malpractice, the special session is otherwise dedicated to redistricting and the allocation of federal stimulus funds.