Proposed New York Medical Malpractice Law Faces Opposition

A proposed <"">New York medical malpractice cap is meeting with opposition from N.Y. Assembly Democrats who point to the most vulnerable claimants. The New York Law Journal wrote that the cap will limit noneconomic medical malpractice awards for pain and suffering, said Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwomen Helene Weinstein.

Ms. Weinstein said that Democrats believe Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s pain-and-suffering cap of $250,000 would be problematic for “women, the elderly, children,” and those in low-income brackets with claims against medical professionals for “grievous” injuries,” said the Journal. “It hurts litigants who have a diminished quality of life for which they will not be compensated,” said Ms. Weinstein (Democrat-Brooklyn).

The proposed medical malpractice cap was one of 79 recommendations from the Medicaid Reform Team, a task force created by the governor to stave off the increasing cost of Medicaid, which is, said the Journal, a $15 billion-a-year program in N.Y. State. The governor accepted the recommendations, adding them to his budget proposal for fiscal year 2011-12, said the Journal.

Although task force agencies see the cap as a way in which to handle the rising costs of medical malpractice lawsuits and related insurance costs, Ms. Weinstein and her fellow Assembly Democrats are taking a strong stand in opposition, said the Journal, which noted that 99 Democrats roundly outnumber the 51 Assembly Republicans. Democratic leader Speaker Sheldon Silver (Democrat-Manhattan) opposes the cap saying that plaintiffs deserve “their day in court,” wrote the Journal.

“We can try to lower costs by taking away the rights of victims, or we can work to make sure fewer patients become victims of preventable medical mistakes,” said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action. “The simple truth is that many New York hospitals rank poorly on national measures of patient safety. By implementing proven methods to stop medical errors before they happen, we can save lives and lower costs without violating the rights of victims,” she added, quoted Politics on the Hudson.

Politics on the Hudson pointed out that at least 25 patient-rights groups opposed the proposal, writing to Governor Cuomo and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly. The proposal also includes the creation of an indemnity fund for infants with neurological impairments. The Senate, said Politics on the Hudson, is backing the proposals.

New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Citizen Action of New York, the Center for Disability Rights, Westchester Disabled on the Move, and the Long-Term Care Community Coalition are among those opposing the proposal. Not unexpectedly, the New York State Medical Society and the Greater New York Hospital Association support the proposed cap and fund, noted Politics on the Hudson.

Those opposing the cap point to a need for increased patient safety, not on placing limits on patients’ recourse. “Our focus should be on patient safety and making sure that proven methods to improve quality of care are implemented in all health care settings,” said Michael Burgess of the New York State Wide Senior Action Council, quoted Politics on the Hudson. “Unfortunately, here in Albany, what has emerged is a plan more for institutional financial safety than patient safety. Placing a cap on awards doesn’t improve the quality of care we need,” Burgess added.

Blair Horner, NYPIRG’s legislative director said, “Study after study shows that a rigorous focus on patient safety can improve the quality of healthcare New Yorkers receive, and save them millions in health care dollars that are today being spent to treat the victims of needless medical mistakes,” Politics on the Hudson quoted.

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