Letter to the Editor: Impact of Wrongful Death Liability Bill

Once again, the New York State Legislature is considering a potentially devastating wrongful death liability bill (A.6696/S.6636) that would exponentially expand damages awarded which could cripple delivery of health care in New York. This bill is very nearly the same as one that was—thankfully—vetoed by Governor Hochul in January.

We have great sympathy for the grieving families that this legislation seeks to help, but the proposed legislative change will ultimately create costly lawsuits that will adversely impact all of our access in NYS to vital health care. Had the aforementioned bill been signed into law, it would have made it even more difficult for our struggling community hospitals and medical practices to continue to provide needed patient care. Unfortunately, it is up again for a vote by the legislatures.

While the new bill purports to respond to the Governor’s veto, it, in fact, does not.

Governor Hochul identified several reasons for vetoing the earlier bill, one being that it would increase the “already high insurance burdens on families and small businesses and further strain already-distressed healthcare workers and institutions” which would be “particularly challenging for struggling hospitals in underserved communities”.

Furthermore, the Governor articulated her concerns that the bill “passed without a serious evaluation of the impact of these massive changes on the economy, small businesses, individuals, and the State’s complex health care system.”

The bill does not address these concerns. It would continue to enable the awards of new categories of damages that multiple actuarial studies show will lead to a nearly 40% growth in liability costs, which would be on top of the already unaffordable costs facing our physicians and hospitals.

Studies from Diederich Healthcare show that from 2019-2021, New York had the highest cumulative medical liability payouts of any state in the country, $1.4 billion, nearly twice as much as the 2nd highest state (Florida) and the 3rd highest state (Pennsylvania). It also had the highest per capita liability payment, 33% more than the 2nd highest state (PA).  And it far exceeds states like California and Texas, which New York is competing with to retain and attract the best and brightest physicians.

The NY State legislature just completed a Budget cycle where significant steps were taken to address the stability of our various community health care providers, particularly those providing needed care in our underserved areas. Yet this Wrongful Death Bill would undermine the positive steps the Legislature has taken to protect access to care.

As the leadership of the Westchester County Medical Society, we continue to advocate for protection of the physician-patient bond. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to express our concerns. We urge the State Legislature to work towards the adoption of truly balanced legislation that can expand the rights of grieving families, while at the same time preserving our patients’ ability to continue to receive needed healthcare in our communities from their physicians.

Bruce Molinelli, MD
President, Westchester County Medical Society
Peter Acker, MD
President-elect, Westchester County Medical Society
Kham Ali, MD
Vice President, Westchester County Medical Society
Thomas Lee, MD
Treasurer, Westchester County Medical Society
Anaïs Carniciu, MD
Secretary, Westchester County Medical Society
Daniel Gold, MD
9th District Branch Councilor, Medical Society State of New York

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