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NM rural hospitals struggling to find insurance coverage

NM rural hospitals struggling to find insurance coverage

Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023 / Page 3A

By Landry Sena

THE STAFF OF THE NEWS lsena@thenews.email

Because New Mexico is considered a plaintiff-friendly state with high pay- outs from medical malpractice law- suits, rural hospital officials say they are struggling to find insurance coverage.

One of the many hospitals across the state that is dealing with this issue is Roosevelt General Hospital in Portales.

New Mexico has established medical liability limits, but the maximums keep rising, said Kaye Green, RGH’s chief executive.

“The limit now is $4.5 million,” Green said. “It started out at $4 million, and then it was to increase by $500,000 every year until 2027, in which it would cap at a $6 million payout.”

Green told The News that various insurance carriers refer to the state as a “brutal New Mexico venue” referenc- ing the plaintiff-friendly environment.

But Brian Egolf, a former New Mex- ico lawmaker, told The News, “When a multi-billion dollar insurance industry claims it’s ‘brutal’ to pay patients what they deserve, they are clearly concerned about their own profit margins, not the innocent patients harmed by negligent errors.”

Egolf supported the medical malprac- tice reform law that was passed in 2021, but he is wary of efforts to lessen medi- cal liability.

“So-called ‘tort reform’ is a corpo- rate agenda set by a multi-billion-dollar industry to avoid paying families what a jury has decided these families de- serve,” Egolf said.

While other states are lowering the limits, New Mexico has actually in- creased limits with that legislation.

Green said when RGH tried to re- new its medical malpractice insurance this year, the quote was $820,000. Two years ago, she said her premium was $330,000. Last year, it was up to about $690,000.

“It has more than doubled in just three years,” Green said.

“It’s a terrible circle we’ve got going here,” said state Sen. Pat Woods, R- Broadview.

Woods believes that because of New Mexico’s high Medicaid population and a high population with no insurance whatsoever, he’s afraid rural hospitals in the state will lose emergency room care.

“We need the rural hospitals for those circumstances to get you stabilized and get you moved,” Woods said.

Green said when RGH’s broker sought quotes from insurance compa- nies, 10 out of the 12 companies asked declined because they are no longer providing insurance in the state of New Mexico.

“That’s why a lot of physicians don’t want to move to New Mexico,” Green said.

Woods agreed, telling the News, “We

need more doctors. Medical malprac- tice is one factor driving doctors out of our state.”

Egolf said hospitals and doctors throughout New Mexico supported the medical malpractice reform law that was passed in 2021.

“Undoing that important change in the law will deny justice to harmed pa- tients and allow insurance companies to evade responsibility for compensating harmed families,” Egolf said.

Egolf believes that New Mexico has no business giving the multi-billion- dollar insurance industry a break “when people in our state are suffering.”

“We know that accountability for big corporations is the only mechanism that keeps patients safe,” he said. “Without accountability and transparency, what incentive do systems have to change dangerous practices that harm pa- tients?”

In the legislative session this year, Green said lawmakers set aside $80 million in support of rural health care. “It was specifically for new services orexpanded services,” she said.

“Most of us (rural hospitals) are run- ning in the red or we’re already at oper- ating losses. We are requesting that leg- islation be modified. So that $80 million could also help rural hospitals,” Green said.

“The only solutions I see is to get the rural hospitals more money to open the doors first,” Woods said.