Vitale-Sweeney-Weinberg Bill To Publicize Hospital Errors Approved

At a news conference in the Statehouse Annex, Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, outlines his plan to provide affordable health care coverage for all New Jersey residents.

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 Senate today by a vote of 38-0.

“As we work to make health care safer for patients in New Jersey, we have to recognize that one of the biggest drivers of patient safety is a free and open marketplace,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “Publicizing patient safety records of hospitals would allow health care consumers to make informed decisions about their medical care. This bill would provide essential consumer information to New Jersey residents and would put more pressure on health care facilities to do more to ensure patient safety.”

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.

“Health care consumers in the Garden State have a right to know whether their hospitals are doing everything they can to avoid preventable medical errors,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “This bill is about giving people the information they deserve to make the best decisions possible for their own health and the health and safety of their family and loved ones. With the cost of healthcare on the rise, patients should have assurances that their hospital is doing everything it can to keep errors at a minimum.”

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.

“It adds insult to injury when a doctor or hospital charges a patient for a medical error that never should have occurred in the first place,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Vice Chairwoman of the Health Committee. “In addition to giving health care consumers the info they need to make the best health care choices, we need to make sure that hospitals aren’t looking to recoup the cost of a preventable medical error on the backs of the patients who were affected. Patients shouldn’t have to face soaring health care bills in addition to the health care consequences of medical errors because their doctor or another health provider made a mistake.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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