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Vitale-Sweeney-Weinberg Bill To Publicize Hospital Errors Receives Final Legislative Approval

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 39-0, receiving final legislative approval.

“The best thing New Jersey can do to improve the safety of health care in our State is to allow free-market principles and business competition to drive patient safety improvements,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Health care consumers deserve to know how safe hospitals and other health care facilities are, and they deserve to be able to compare patient safety records at different facilities. By creating a more informed health care consumer, we’re putting the spotlight on health care facilities that aren’t living up to their patient safety responsibilities, and forcing them to do better in order to remain economically competitive.”

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.

“If you buy a car in this country, or a home appliance, you have a right to know the safety of that purchase,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “However, for far too long, health care patient safety indicators have been off-limits to the average person, forcing them to make decisions about their health care blindly. This bill brings patient safety information into the light of day, and ensures all New Jersey residents have access to this vital health care information.”

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 to force patients to pay for the medical mistakes of their doctors and other health care professionals, particularly when those mistakes are preventable and should not have occurred in the first place,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee. “In addition to the necessary provisions publicizing medical errors at health care facilities, this bill would prohibit facilities from trying to recoup the cost of preventable mistakes. We should never allow health care professionals or facilities to ask patients to foot the bill for medical errors when the patients are the ones who are going to have to live with the health care consequences of those errors.”

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

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