By Marcus Rayner | June 10, 2010
Before Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee
I want to thank the Chair for posting A-1982 for discussion today, and for giving me the opportunity to testify in support of it. My name is Marcus Rayner, and I am the executive director of the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance, or NJLRA. NJLRA was created in 2007 out of a broad concern among business leaders and professionals in the medical community about the impact the state’s civil justice system has on New Jerseyans’ quality of life. This legislation addresses a number of important reforms that will benefit New Jersey residents. And it is an important first step to help reverse the trend of doctors fleeing our state.
For many aspiring medical students at New Jersey’s institutions, the dream of practicing specialized medicine faces significant financial hurdles. In addition to a high cost of living and student loans, young doctors must also be prepared to absorb the cost of malpractice insurance premiums. And specialties which carry the highest premiums tend to disproportionately impact women, as New Jersey’s OBGYNs face some of the highest rates in the nation. NJLRA spoke to one such casualty of the system a few months back, a medical student who had invested well over one hundred thousand dollars into his education and had lived in New Jersey his entire life. He sadly realized that he would not be able to afford to practice obstetrics – his lifelong dream – unless he did so in another state with lower premiums.
Over time, this will mean that the average New Jersey resident has a longer waiting period when one needs to be seen by a specialist. For pregnant women, it may become increasingly difficult to find an OBGYN who will deliver their baby. One study, conducted by the Council of Teaching Hospitals, estimates that New Jersey will be short nearly 3,000 doctors in the next decade if this trend of doctors leaving the state continues.
Merely being named in a lawsuit is not only damaging to a physician’s reputation, but it is also very costly. In addition to the upfront costs of litigation, premiums usually increase. Our current laws allow one to sue not only the physician who treated them, but any physician who has shared a practice, support personnel, or other professional ties – even if the other physicians have never even met the patient. This bill would require that a healthcare provider had a relationship with a patient filing suit, and would shield innocent doctors from being named in a suit in which they provided no treatment. Further, this bill would prevent insurance carriers from raising malpractice premiums based on a claim of medical practice, unless the physician is found liable in court.
Another important component of this bill is the affidavit of merit. When a case is heard in court, it’s common for medical experts to be called to provide testimony. These experts who play such an important role in determining a case’s outcome should be true experts in their field. Requiring physicians and healthcare professionals who provide “expert testimony” to be licensed in New Jersey is a step in ensuring their credentials.
Lastly, physicians who act in good faith and volunteer their time to treat the most vulnerable among us should not be subjected to civil penalties. Retired physicians – who, according to some estimates, are retiring younger than ever before – should not be deterred from offering their time, talent, and medical expertise because they fear being sued.
Again, I thank Chairman Conaway for introducing and hearing A-1982, and I strongly encourage the committee to support it.