SANTA FE — Emergency legislation backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would revise New Mexico’s medical malpractice law to ensure independently owned outpatient clinics can remain open next year — a bipartisan deal intended to resolve a combative debate at the Capitol.
The agreement was announced Tuesday by Lujan Grisham and the Republican and Democratic floor leaders of the state Senate.
The proposal, Senate Bill 523, would increase the clinics’ financial exposure to legal claims next year, but with a $1 million cap on damages rather than $5 million limit that had been set to go into effect. An inflation adjustment would be added to cap in future years.
Lujan Grisham said the clinics couldn’t obtain full legal insurance under the $5 million cap. But insurance companies, she said, have confirmed they can provide coverage under the proposal.
“Patients deserve access to quality health care,” the governor said.
The proposal, she said, is intended to strike a balance that ensures doctors can continue to practice in independent clinics and patients can obtain justice in court for medical errors.
The bipartisan deal comes after doctors in white coats and scrubs flooded the Capitol this year, contending a 2021 rewrite of the medical malpractice law had made it impossible for them to obtain legal insurance for 2024.
Proposals backed by the doctors failed in both legislative chambers earlier this session.
But Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, oversaw negotiations in recent weeks between a group of physicians and lawyers representing patients. Lujan Grisham, they said, helped close the deal.
“We’ve come to a compromise here that is going to be workable and functional for a long time,” Baca said Tuesday.
Wirth said the negotiations produced legislation the lawyers and doctors say they can live with — much preferable to having lawmakers force an agreement on them.
“This is the kind of issue that really needed to be resolved by the parties,” he said.
The details of the legislation will be released later Tuesday when the emergency bill is formally sent to a committee. It could be taken up by the Senate tax committee Tuesday and then reach the full Senate on Wednesday.
It will have to move quickly in the final days of the session. Lawmakers adjourn at noon Saturday.