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Frelinghuysen: Health Act Would Bring Relief to New Jersey s Medical Malpractice Emergency

Location: Washington, DC

Frelinghuysen: Health Act Would Bring Relief to New Jersey s Medical Malpractice Emergency
July 28, 2005

American Medical Association names New Jersey as one of 21 states facing a medical malpractice crisis

Washington, DC - Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) today praised the House's passage of the HEALTH Act, a common sense reform package for protecting patients access to health care and reforming the national medical malpractice problem that has New Jersey doctors facing a dilemma - either move to another state or shut down their practices to avoid New Jersey's rising malpractice insurance costs.

"The rising cost of medical malpractice insurance has forced New Jersey into a medical emergency," said Frelinghuysen. "Doctors across New Jersey continue to be driven out of business or forced to leave the state altogether because they simply cannot afford to pay for skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance premiums.

"With limited treatment options and less doctors practicing medicine, healthcare is growing more expensive and patients are bearing the brunt of this crisis. The Health Act is a common sense approach to safeguarding patients' access to care and ensuring that more doctors are able to keep their office doors open."

According to the American Medical Association, 21 states, including New Jersey, are already experiencing a medical malpractice crisis. Numerous obstetricians and other physicians practicing in New Jersey have been forced to restrict their practices, consider early retirement or leave the state altogether, due to unaffordable premiums.

In New Jersey, one out of every four hospitals, nearly 27 percent has been forced to increase payments to find physicians willing to work in the emergency department. A New Jersey Hospital Association survey shows that 100% of New Jersey hospitals saw an increase in liability insurance premiums in 2002, with the average hospital experiencing a 50% increase. Liability insurance has increased 203% since 1999.

Frelinghuysen added, "Today, families are traveling further, and in some cases across state lines, to find a doctor. This shouldn't happen in New Jersey, home to some of the greatest medical research and development facilities in the world. New Jerseyans need this reform bill, and I strongly urge the Senate to follow the House s lead."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently reported that the national average award in medical malpractice cases has risen 76% in recent years. The median medical liability jury award nearly doubled from $157,000 in 1997 to $300,000 in 2003.

The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (Health Act) would:

Limit the number of years a plaintiff has to file a health care liability action to ensure that claims are brought while witnesses are available and memories fresh, and before evidence is destroyed

Ensure that a party will only be liable for that party s own share. Under the current system, defendants who are only 1% at fault may be held liable for 100% of the damages. This eliminates the incentive for attorneys to search for "deep pockets" and pursue lawsuits against those minimally liable or not liable at all.

Limit unquantifiable non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, to no more than $250,000. It does not limit the amount a patient can receive for economic damages.

Maximizes patients' awards by allowing the court to ensure that an unjust portion of the patient s recovery is not misdirected to his attorney. This will help discourage baseless lawsuits by limiting incentives to pursue meritless claims.

Places reasonable limits on punitive damages to make the punishment fit the offense, raising the burden of proof for clear and convincing evidence to show either malicious intent to injure or deliberate failure to act to avoid injury.

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