M.D.s: No Joy In N.J. Lawmakers' Med-Mal Offer

|

By Michael Ha

|

NU Online News Service, Feb. 6, 2:54 p.m.EST?After four days, most New Jersey doctors had ended awork stoppage protesting soaring malpractice insurance costs today,but their leaders voiced dissatisfaction with measures statelegislators offered to fix coverage problems.

|

On Tuesday, with thousands of New Jersey doctors off the job fora second day, key state legislators announced a proposal for acompromise bill to resolve the issue.

|

"The main component of the proposal, in principle, would limitthe liability for malpractice insurers at $300,000 per claim fornoneconomic damages. And it would create a separate trust fund tocompensate victims above and beyond that amount," said Sen. JosephR. Vitale, D-Woodbridge.

|

Mr. Vitale is co-chair of the Senate Health, Human Services andSenior Citizens Committee and one of the legislators, whointroduced the proposal.

|

The fund would be built from an annual surcharge on healthinsurers of $2 to $3 for each person they cover, as well as $15annual fees for each New Jersey doctor and lawyer.

|

"We are still working on all the details before introducing abill," Sen. Vitale told National Underwriter. "Our hope isthat it addresses the concerns of the doctors and, at the sametime, meets the needs of the victims and stabilizes insurancecosts. That way, patients' rights are not sacrificed to end themedical malpractice insurance crisis facing physicians in NewJersey."

|

The senator rejected doctors' previously stated demands for capson jury awards, instead of a limited liability for insurers fornoneconomic damages.

|

Mr. Vitale said the "bottom line is that we are trying toprotect doctors as well as victims involved. Caps on jury awardsare not an option. The medical society can't have it all or get itall."

|

Some of the leading organizers of the job action were criticalof the lawmakers' efforts. While the work slowdown began to winddown, with many returning to their offices yesterday, theircomments revealed a considerable gap between doctors' demands andthe new proposal discussed by state legislators.

|

"In this proposal, you are just shifting the cost to somebodyelse," said Dr. Robert S. Rigolosi, a kidney specialist andpresident of the Medical Society of New Jersey and one of theorganizers of the job action.

|

He also estimated that the job action, which he said involved70-to-75 percent of some 22,000 doctors in the state, wouldcontinue for some participants, with some doctors announcing thattheir work stoppage would continue indefinitely until asatisfactory bill is passed by lawmakers.

|

"You still have to tax somebody to fund those awards. They don'tseem to understand the fact that the cost is so big that it isbreaking the system. So we need to cap these big awards," Dr.Rigolosi told National Underwriter.

|

Medical Society spokesperson John Shaffer added, "We haven'tseen all the details yet, but we do have serious concerns."

|

"The state would be creating a fund that will pay noneconomicdamages in excess of $300,000. And we are concerned whether thefunding will be adequate, and [that] this pot of unlimited fundsmay lead to even more lawsuits," Mr. Shaffer said.

|

According to New Jersey's Republican Senate Co-President John O.Bennett, R, Freehold, the legislative proposal could become acompromise bill ready for a full Senate vote later this month.

|

The proposal is also being reviewed by Gov. James E. McGreevey,who continues to work with legislators on resolving this issue,said Ellen Mellody, a spokesperson for the governor.

|

Despite failure to secure a remedy they could embrace,physicians said the job action had managed to succeed in puttingthe issue of medical malpractice costs to the forefront in a waythat was never done before.

|

"There were thousands of doctors participating statewide,primary care doctors and specialists alike, uniting for a commoncause," said Dr. Alan Zaccaria, president of Monmouth CountyMedical Society and a plastic surgeon in the town of Little Silver,N.J.

|

"This has never been done before in our country, so we are trulymaking history," Dr. Zaccaria said.

|

In the past few weeks, several other states saw smaller groupsof physicians voice their concerns on medical malpractice insurancecosts.

|

Late last month, some 800 Florida doctors skipped work to attenda two-day conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., to learn more aboutrising medical malpractice premiums and to talk about possibleremedies.

|

And in Mississippi, a dozen surgeons took leaves of absence toprotest high insurance costs. Additionally, some 750 doctors inMissouri staged a rally late January to ask the state legislaturefor changes that would lower their medical malpractice rates.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free PropertyCasualty360 Digital Reader

  • All PropertyCasualty360.com news coverage, best practices, and in-depth analysis.
  • Educational webcasts, resources from industry leaders, and informative newsletters.
  • Other award-winning websites including BenefitsPRO.com and ThinkAdvisor.com.
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.