Before a New Jersey patient can be transferred out of state for optimal care, they'd be required to learn that they have a choice in the matter, and that New Jersey may have some appropriate facilities as well, under legislation getting the green light so far from lawmakers in Trenton.

Titled the Patient Protection Act, the bill also requires health facilities and professionals to provide patients a clinical rationale for an out-of-state transfer or referral.

"A transfer to an out-of-state facility can be a distressing experience for patients and their families," state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said in a news release. "They should be provided with all the information they need to make the right decisions and to prepare for the change, including costs and other options. They should not be hit with unexpected expenses and inconveniences at the last minute or after the fact."

In a statement to legislators, the New Jersey Hospital Association said it sees the proposal "as an extension of the commitment to transparency" made by the state in support of a law signed last year that provides enhanced protections for consumers who receive healthcare services from out-of-network providers.

"This legislation also requires providers to disclose information to the patient about additional healthcare services in their area," the association's statement read. "In some instances patients are not aware of services that can be provided closer to home, and travel can be a significant burden for many patients and families."

Opponents of the bill, however, claim the proposed law creates unnecessary duplication of measures already in place at certain facilities, as well as unnecessary delays and perhaps more questions than answers for patients.

Margaret Burke, part of the senior leadership team for N.J.- and N.Y.-based Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said when a decision is made to transfer a New Jersey patient out of state, the patient, family and physicians are part of the process. MSK physicians work full-time for the center.

"To pause at points in that care to satisfy the criteria in the bill, given we've addressed the financial risk up front, minimally could feel disjointed and confusing to our patients," Burke told legislators. "But more importantly, add unnecessary delay and burden at a time when a patient feels vulnerable and anxious."

Larry Downs, CEO of the Medical Society of New Jersey, said the bill is well-intentioned, but adds a burden of specific disclosures that are mostly covered anyway by the current out-of-network law.

"That can simply be amended to include out-of-state transfers," Downs said.

The measure still needs approval from the full Senate. The full Assembly approved the measure in May but will have to revisit it to consider an amendment related to patients who are unconscious or lack the capacity to make healthcare decisions.

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