Texas doctors will continue to receive a full range of liability protections even when treating New Mexico patients. That issue was in doubt until the New Mexico Legislature took decisive action Feb. 17.
The legislation preserves vital access to Texas physicians and hospitals for residents of Eastern New Mexico who routinely cross the state line for care. The Texas Alliance For Patient Access (TAPA) says the New Mexico Legislature recognized access to health care is a public policy priority. Without legislation, thousands of patients would lose ready access to primary and specialized care, says Howard Marcus, MD, TAPA chairman.
Under the legislation, the medical liability laws of the state in which a patient received care now will govern cases involving New Mexicans seeking medical care across state lines, provided the patient signs a written consent before receiving treatment. The House and Senate passed the bill unanimously. Gov. Susana Martinez signed the measure into law on March 3.
The new law is good news for Texas because the state's doctors and hospitals have expressed a reluctance to treat visiting New Mexico patients. That followed a New Mexico court ruling that questioned where and under which state laws a suit can be filed if an alleged medical mishap occurs. That case, Montano v. Frezza, is pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court. (Read "Border Battle" in the November 2015 issue of Texas Medicine.)
For Texas doctors, this meant accepting increased liability risk and costs when treating New Mexico patients. Consequently, many Texas doctors and hospitals were reconsidering their willingness to accept the transfer or referral of a New Mexico patient for elective care.
The New Mexico law has big implications for access to care in the state. According to the American Medical Association, the Eastern New Mexico counties of De Baca, Guadalupe, Harding, Quay, Roosevelt, and Union have no cardiologist, no neurologist, no plastic surgeon, no orthopedic surgeon, no radiologist, and no ear, nose, and throat doctor. Of those counties, only Roosevelt County has an oncologist.
Recent data from the New Mexico and Texas departments of health show 13 counties in Southern and Eastern New Mexico send more than 22 percent of their hospitalized patients to Texas for care.
Action, March 15, 2016