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Vitale-Sweeney-Weinberg Bill To Publicize Hospital Errors Approved In Assembly

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale, Loretta Weinberg, and Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney which would require the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to publicly report certain preventable patient safety errors at New Jersey’s hospitals was approved by the Assembly today by a vote of 76-1.

“Health care consumers have a right to know when it comes to key patient safety indicators at health care facilities around the State of New Jersey,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Right now, we collect information confidentially to help identify the best practices to create a safer health care environment for patients, but I think the next step in patient safety is giving consumers the information they need to make the best personalized health care choices they can. Through this bill, we’re augmenting our current patient safety efforts and educating and empowering health care consumers to make the best choices for their own care.”

The bill, S-2471, would require DHSS to include in the annual New Jersey Hospital Performance Report certain patient safety indicators and preventable medical errors on a hospital-by-hospital basis. DHSS would be required to report information on 14 pre-established patient safety indicators, including: foreign body left after medical procedure; postoperative hemorrhage or hematoma; postoperative sepsis; accidental puncture or laceration; or surgery performed on the wrong side, wrong body part, or wrong patient. The patient safety indicators listed in the bill were developed by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or are listed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as “never” events that are not eligible for payment under Medicare or Medicaid.

The sponsors noted that the information would be available to the public to allow them to make more informed decisions about their health care, and would put pressure on poor performing hospitals to do more to ensure patient safety in New Jersey.

“By giving everyone access to patient safety information, we can bring the pressure of the open market to bear to encourage hospitals to do everything they can to keep patients safe,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “Regulations and mandates can only go so far in protecting patients from medical mistakes. But when you start talking about a health care facility’s bottom line, hospital administrators are going to do everything they can to eliminate medical mistakes and remain economically competitive – and patients will reap the benefits from a safer health care system in New Jersey.”

The bill would also prohibit hospitals or physicians from charging a patient or third-party payer for certain medical errors or hospital-acquired conditions which are ineligible for reimbursement under the CMS-established medical error guidelines. The sponsors noted that asking a patient to pay for treatment of a preventable medical error is unfair, particularly since many health insurers, including Medicaid and Medicare, do not cover treatment for preventable medical errors.

“Sometimes, the most well-meaning, competent health care professionals can make very serious mistakes, and patients are forced to live with the consequences,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee. “However, when a mistake occurs in a health care setting, it adds insult to injury that a patient or their family might have to pay for follow-up care to treat the medical consequences of that mistake. The provision of this bill to establish non-payment for medical errors is necessary to protect patients from massive health care bills as a result of a health care error.”

The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.

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