New York Gov. Cuomo Proposes Malpractice Damage Cap As Means to Shore-up Budget, Loses Fight with Assembly
April 7, 2011by
Declaring New York State “functionally bankrupt” in February, newly-elected Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a $132.9 billion budget that would reduce year-to-year spending for the first time in more than a decade. Key to his proposal was slashing the state’s projected healthcare spending, specifically cutting $2.85 billion in Medicaid funding for this fiscal year and $4.6 billion in the 2012-13 budget. New York has the most expensive Medicaid system in the nation, currently serving one in four New Yorkers and costing more than twice the national per capita average. In order to cleanse New York’s Medicaid program of inefficiencies and waste, Cuomo appointed a Medicaid Redesign Task Force in January of 2011, which consisted of lawmakers as well as representatives of labor and healthcare interests. The task force issued 79 recommendations for the approval of the Governor and Legislature. The recommendations included establishing a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in cases of medical malpractice as well as creating a Neurologically Impaired Infant Medical Indemnity Fund to compensate brain-damaged infants. “This comprehensive and consensus proposal achieves the dramatic reform this state needs to reduce costs without jeopardizing patient care,” Cuomo said. “This approach was not about making cuts but redesigning a program whose costs are unsustainable.” The unexpected endorsement of a non-economic damage cap by a governor from the Democratic Party elicited immediate condemnation from patient-rights advocacy groups and the New York State Bar Association, which testified that capping damages would “unjustly discriminate against accident victims who suffer the most devastating physical and psychological losses.” The Cuomo Administration countered that the $250,000 cap on non-economic damages is necessary to improve the predictability of future awards and settlements, decreasing the cost of medical professional liability insurance for the state’s physicians and hospital system, which would help them better adjust to other cuts in the Medicaid system. “Gov. Cuomo’s proposal reflects the fact that preserving quality and access in medicine, while reducing cost, will require fairness in the civil justice system,” said Cecil Wilson, MD, president of the American Medical Association, in support of the governor’s push for tort reform. “Every dollar spent on the broken medical liability system is a dollar that cannot be used to improve patient care.” After a month-long, often-contentious debate that pitted Gov. Cuomo’s office and the Republican-controlled State Senate against the State Assembly’s Democratic-majority, the parties ultimately announced an agreement for the 2011-2012 budget that excluded any cap on non-economic damages. The plan to create an indemnity fund for neurologically injured infants, however, did remain in the budget.