New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey signed a new law with tort, insurance and healthcare system reforms aimed at containing malpractice premiums while ensuring high-quality care for patients. The New Jersey Medical Care Access and Responsibility and Patients First Act creates a three-year, $78 million fund to provide malpractice insurance relief to doctors and hospitals and to create a student-loan forgiveness program. The fund will be supported by a $75 annual assessment on professionals, such as doctors, dentists and lawyers, and a $3 annual per-employee surcharge on employers.
In addition, the law strengthens reporting requirements for physician misconduct and expands the state's "good Samaritan law," offering immunity from civil damages to licensed professionals responding to an emergency. Tort reform is accomplished in part by establishing age 13 as the statute of limitations for birth injuries; the previous limit was 18, with two years to file. The new law also prohibits people from concurrently serving on the boards of medical malpractice insurers and professional trade associations, and it allows doctors to form malpractice-insurance purchasing alliances. The Medical Society of New Jersey considers the law only a start, spokesman John Shaffer said. "There is nothing to immediately stabilize or reduce premiums, and right now we are facing premium increases of 20% on renewal," he said. -- by Cinda Becker