While a New Jersey medical malpractice reform bill passed the state Legislature late last month without the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages sought by the state medical society, the bill, awaiting the signature of Gov. James McGreevey, "takes the initial step" toward addressing the state's problems, said the president of the physicians' group.
A key provision of the bill is the creation of a Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Premium Assistance Fund to help physicians offset their insurance costs. State officials estimate the fund will spend $26.1 million a year for three years, money that will be raised by imposing $75 annual fees on the state's physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, dentists, optometrists and lawyers, plus $3 per employee of those employers subject to the state's workers' compensation law.
"More than two years have passed since the medical liability crisis first appeared," said S. Manzoor Abidi, M.D., president of the Medical Society of New Jersey, in a news release. "(The) passage of (the provision) takes the initial step toward fixing flaws and abuses in New Jersey's medical liability system."
Abidi called for further government action to stem the flight of physicians from the state and the diversion "of millions of dollars to liability premiums that could have been better invested in providing patient care."
McGreevey spokesman Micah Rasmussen said "There is no question that there is a (medical malpractice) problem" in New Jersey and called the bill "a positive step," but he added the governor wanted to look over the legislation, which had been amended several times, before deciding whether he would sign it.
Regarding the failed effort by physicians and the Republican minority to place tort caps in the Democratic-introduced bill, McGreevey, who is a Democrat, did not push for the limits, Rasmussen said.
"No one had demonstrated to the governor that the caps would have brought the rate relief the physicians were seeking," he said.