Republicans seek quicker action on medical malpractice bill - Albuquerque Journal

Republicans seek quicker action on medical malpractice bill

In this file photo, physicians and others in the medical field talk with House Minority Floor Leader James Townsend in the hallways of the Roundhouse. They say New Mexico’s medical malpractice law must be updated immediately to avoid an interruption in health care services Jan. 1. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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SANTA FE – Republicans in the state Senate tried and failed Wednesday to accelerate passage of a bill updating New Mexico’s medical malpractice law.

The legislation is necessary, physicians say, to ensure independent doctors can continue to practice at hospitals and that independently owned outpatient clinics can stay open after Dec. 31. Insurance carriers, they say, have refused to provide insurance under the law as it stands now.

A push to remove the legislation from the Senate Judiciary Committee and put it before the full chamber failed on a 13-25 vote Wednesday afternoon, with Democrats opposed.

Democrats said the proposal – including a series of potential amendments – should be vetted in a committee hearing before reaching the full Senate.

Legislators began a committee hearing late Wednesday and spent about three hours going over the bill line by line, before agreeing to stop for the night so they could handle other business. The meeting is set to resume Thursday morning.

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, accused Democrats of moving so slowly that they’ve alarmed doctors throughout the state. The changes must become law by Jan. 1, he said, to avoid interrupting health care services in New Mexico.

“Time is up,” Moores said. “Insurance companies have to issue new statements. We created this problem and we’ve been sitting on it for a week now.”

The proposed legislation, House Bill 11, passed the House Friday and hadn’t received a hearing until Wednesday. It won approval in the House on a 63-2 vote.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said legislative staff have used the time to evaluate the need for technical changes to how the bill is written.

The proposal, he said, aims to change a law that hasn’t yet taken effect, requiring careful consideration of the language necessary to accomplish that.

Cervantes said other changes are also required, and it’s better to handle them in committee – where public testimony is taken – rather than before the full Senate.

“The implications of getting it wrong are enormous,” he said late Wednesday as the committee examined the bill and proposed amendments.

Republicans weren’t convinced. They said the proposal has already been vetted by a coalition of trial lawyers, physicians, patients and others, who agreed on the proposed solution.

“All I’m asking is that we quit piddling around and do something useful,” Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said.

Senators rarely agree to pull a bill out of a committee for consideration on the chamber floor unless the committee chairperson agrees. The procedure is often referred to as “blasting” a bill out of committee.

The typical process is for a committee to vote on its own whether to advance a proposal to another committee or to the full chamber.

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