- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will bring legislators back to Annapolis after Christmas for a special session to deal with a medical-malpractice insurance crisis that he said is “the most important issue in the state of Maryland.”

The governor’s announcement came yesterday after a series of meetings with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch on ways to deal with problems in the health care industry brought about by rising malpractice insurance premiums.

The three leaders said some issues remain to be settled, but that they agree on most of the details about what needs to be done to avoid huge premium increases that some doctors say are driving them out of business.

One key area of disagreement is how the state will finance a fund that would be created to protect the Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland against potential losses if the state orders a rollback of the 33 percent average premium increase due by the end of December.

“But the bottom line is that we are at enough of a degree of agreement that it’s time to bring the members in,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “The members will be briefed over the forthcoming days, and we will get it done.”

Mr. Ehrlich said hearings on the bill he is preparing will be held Dec. 27, and the special session will begin on Dec. 28. It would be the first special session of the General Assembly since 1992, when lawmakers were called back to deal with budget deficits resulting from the recession of the early 1990s.

Legislative leaders would like to limit a special session to one day if they can get the work done that quickly.

“If the three of us agree, I think things can go fairly smoothly, except for the funding situation,” Mr. Miller said.

“This is a crisis situation,” he said.

Dr. Karl P. Riggle, a Hagerstown surgeon who heads a statewide physicians’ group called Save Our Doctors, Protect Our Patients, said he was eager to hear details of what the governor, speaker and Senate president have agreed to so far.

“This is a complex issue, and ultimately, the contents of the agreement are what’s most important,” Dr. Riggle said.

The fund that would protect the state’s largest insurer from future losses is intended as a temporary program to hold down the rates while other reforms of medical-malpractice laws take effect. Proponents of malpractice reform are pushing for restrictions on malpractice suits that they say would end the rapid premium increases of the last three years.

Asked about details of his plan and the negotiations with Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch, Mr. Ehrlich said, “At this time, I’m not at liberty to give all the highlights of the plan.”

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