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Vitale-Sweeney-Weinberg Bill To Publicize Hospital Errors Signed Into Law

Catholic Health East-New Jersey unveils a photo exhibit, "Faces of The Uninsured," highlighting eight people who lost their jobs and face illness without medical coverage.

PRINCETON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale, Loretta Weinberg, and Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney which will require the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to publicly report certain preventable patient safety errors at New Jersey’s hospitals was signed into law today by Governor Corzine.

“Health care consumers have a right to know, particularly when it comes to the safety and quality of their health care experience,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the lead sponsor on the bill and Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “This new law requires hospitals to report some basic information which will allow health care consumers to make informed choices regarding their care, and will prohibit hospitals from being paid for errors which should have never happened. Ultimately, fair market principles will help put pressure on underperforming hospitals to do better, and will put greater focus than ever before on patient safety in health care facilities across New Jersey.”

The new law, S-2471, will 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 will 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 will be available to the public to allow them to make more informed decisions about their health care, and will put pressure on poor performing hospitals to do more to ensure patient safety in New Jersey.

“This is a major victory for consumer protection in New Jersey,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “Now, hospitals will be required to abide by the same reporting principles that we apply when someone purchases an automobile or home appliance. Given that the health-care industry is a multi-million dollar industry in this State, it’s about time that New Jersey residents see a little transparency when it comes to some of the most common patient safety indicators used in the industry.”

The bill also prohibits 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 is simply wrong for hospitals to ask health care consumers to pay for the added medical expenses resulting from hospital errors or physicians’ mistakes – particularly when those errors should never have happened in the first place,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee. “This new law goes a long way to give health care consumers information that will allow them to make the best decisions for themselves and their family. But more importantly, it prohibits a reprehensible practice by some health care providers to charge ailing patients for their own mistakes, adding insult to injury.”

The bill received final legislative approval in June.

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