N.J. law gives physicians some relief from liability premiums

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New Jersey lawmakers took action recently to provide medical malpractice reform for physicians in the state. On June 7, the state's governor signed the New Jersey Medical Care Access and Responsibility and Patients First Act into law.

The new law creates a $78 million temporary fund to help cover the cost of insurance premiums, among other things, reported State Health Notes (6/14/04), a publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures. To raise money for the fund (set to expire in 3 years), the law imposes an annual surcharge of $75 on physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, dentists, optometrists, and lawyers, as well as $3 per employee from all employers covered under the state's Unemployment Compensation Law.

State legislators earmarked $17 million to help pay the insurance premiums of those health-care providers who experience rate increases above a specified amount. Funds were also reserved to subsidize hospital charity care, a student loan expense reimbursement program for ob/gyns who practice in underserved areas for at least 4 years, and a program for pregnant women who do not qualify for Medicaid and cannot afford health care.

While the law does not provide caps on damages in malpractice lawsuits, it does allow physicians to join "purchasing alliances" to better negotiate insurance premiums for members, and it prevents insurers from raising clinicians' insurance rates if a medical malpractice claim against them is dismissed.

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