A bill currently moving through the New Jersey legislature aims to seriously limit physicians’ choices when it comes to the treatment of their patients.
The bill (S-3816/A-5369), called the ‘Patient Protection Act,’ imposes lengthy, time-consuming processes on physicians who want to transfer or refer patients to out-of-state medical providers. The bill claims to protect patients from surprise insurance fees after being transferred to out-of-network providers, but according to Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, there is no data to support that the bill solves a significant problem patients are currently facing. Furthermore, state lines do not determine insurance coverage. Out-of-network providers can be located in New Jersey and in-network providers can be located in multiple surrounding states. The attempted justification for these limits falls incredibly short.
So why place such limits on patient care? Collinsgru called the legislation a “protectionist bill for hospitals in New Jersey,” which makes sense when you consider the fact that George Norcross, Cooper Hospital Board Chairman, is an adviser to and close friend of Stephen Sweeney, Senate President and one of the bill’s most prominent sponsors.
If passed, this legislation could have a devastating effect on patient care. Currently, physicians in New Jersey are free to refer their patients to world-renowned hospitals in Philadelphia, New York City, and across the nation for treatment. New rules imposed by the bill would require physicians to inform patients of the availability of in-state facilities even if they think their patient can receive better care elsewhere, notify the patient’s insurance company of the out-of-state transfer, and report the transfer or referral to the Department of Health. This addition of paperwork and red-tape will force physicians to make the easier, time-friendly decision of keeping their patients in-state, regardless of their thoughts on quality of care. Additionally, as if the above requirements aren’t enough, physicians would also be required to send quarterly reports of each out-of-state referral to their licensing board, accompanied by an explanation of the clinical necessity.
Medical & Legal Community Response
The professional response to the bill has been predictable. CEO’s of the state’s largest hospital chains have publicly advocated for the bill, including Hackensack Meridian Health, RWJBarnabas Health, and Atlantic Health System. Physician groups, however, are obviously much less supportive. Messa & Associates founder, Joseph L. Messa, Jr., called in to Inside Medicine this past weekend, a weekly radio show on ESPN radio (1020am) discussing topics pertinent to patients and the medical industry. The hour long program discussed the very problematic nature of the bill and its likely motivations. You can listen to that broadcast on the player below. And once you’ve listened, call your representatives and tell them you don’t want politics dictating where you can receive medical treatment!