- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said he is working with House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. on reducing medical-malpractice insurance costs to avoid a statewide health care crisis.

“The president generally agrees with a number of the reform initiatives that we have advocated. He has disagreements with others,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. “And we are working together, the three of us, on the stop-loss provision, which originally was the most controversial, [and now it] may turn out to be the least controversial.”

Mr. Ehrlich last week offered legislation that would implement tort reform, limit malpractice lawsuits and create a stop-loss fund to help insurers. The two legislative leaders are reviewing the bill.

Mr. Miller yesterday declined to comment about his talks with the governor.

A trial lawyer, Mr. Miller last week dismissed the Ehrlich administration’s plan, accusing the governor of trying to impose a “right-wing” agenda. He said he would present his own legislation after meeting with Mr. Busch and other leaders.

Both Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, and Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, favor a tax on health maintenance organizations to help defray costs for Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland.

Medical Mutual, the state’s largest medical insurer, says its projections indicate it will owe more in malpractice claims than it receives from doctors in premiums.

Mr. Ehrlich has been adamant that he will not raise taxes for new spending.

Mr. Busch, who has said he supports Mr. Ehrlich’s call to hold a special session on the issue, yesterday said the three state leaders have not talked about the stop-loss fund since Mr. Ehrlich submitted the plan last week.

“There has only been one meeting [early last month] where the three of us sat down and talked about this,” Mr. Busch said.

He said he plans to meet with Mr. Miller this week.

Mr. Ehrlich yesterday said he hopes that he and the Democratic leaders are on the verge of calling back legislators for a special session.

“I hope we are,” he said. “I will talk to the president this week.”

The governor’s bill includes a provision for a sliding scale to limit attorney fees in malpractice cases, beginning with 40 percent for the first $200,000 of a judgment and 15 percent for anything more than $600,000.

Medical Mutual last year increased insurance premiums by 28 percent and has received state approval for a 33 percent increase before the end of the year.

State officials have said such increases will force doctors to close their practices or leave the state.

After the increases are imposed, Maryland doctors will be paying as much as $150,000 a year in premiums.

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