Trial-attorney win hurts NM doctors and NM patients - Albuquerque Journal

Trial-attorney win hurts NM doctors and NM patients

Dr. Nathaniel Roybal

As a native New Mexican physician, I work daily toward improving the health of my fellow New Mexicans. However, the ability of my fellow physicians to continue basic care has recently come under attack. The special-interest lobby of trial attorneys has created a crisis that threatens health security of all New Mexicans. Unfortunately, our Legislature has silently declared it is unlikely to take meaningful measures to address this looming catastrophe.

The historical background is that in 2021, House Bill 75 enacted dramatic changes to the patient compensation fund by increasing the medial liabilities cap from $600,000 to $750,000 for individual physicians and up to $6 million for our hospitals. The bill poorly defined the terms hospital versus individual, creating the potential for individuals to be sued for the higher $6 million limit. This intentional ambiguity has created a malpractice insurance crisis. Physicians and their surgical centers can no longer find carriers willing to insure at the $6 million limit. Without insurance coverage, physicians can no longer provide life-saving care. In a follow-up emergency session, HB 11 issued a stay of HB 75. Without action, this 2023 session HB 75 becomes active again and the crisis will come to a head.

New Mexico is already experiencing heavy losses of qualified physicians, with more than 600 primary care physicians leaving New Mexico between 2017 and 2020. These losses and the current hostility toward physicians will threaten access to health care. Catering to the trial-attorney lobby will be devastating for New Mexico families.

The physicians who choose to stay in New Mexico will be forced to limit risk by deferring care of complex medical issues. The most gravely ill patients require high-risk procedures to treat their diseases, and these procedures carry more liability to physicians. The loss of highly skilled physicians or their willingness to treat relegates New Mexicans to travel out of state for complex medical care. Unfortunately, the populations most negatively affected by these changes are our sickest and most economically deprived.

As a clarification, House Bill 75 did little to help patients in New Mexico. The elevated caps are for pain and suffering. The patient compensation fund was originally created at the request of physicians decades ago to limit liabilities but mostly to provide for future medical expenses of those who have endured unfortunate medical outcomes. By forcing physicians out of the patient compensation fund, the trial attorney lobby is knowingly garnering money from these patients’ future care towards their lofty legal fees.

It is incumbent on all of us to ask our leadership to act. Medicine is a highly competitive business, and physicians will move to the environment that best supports their efforts. Medicine needs your help, we love New Mexico, we love our culture, we are honored to serve you. We do need your voice, your input, and look forward to improving the access of health care to all New Mexicans. Inaction is bad for New Mexicans, bad for business and bad for physicians. If we remain quiet, the trial-attorney special interests are well poised to win another important policy battle.

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