- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2005

The chairman of the D.C. Council’s health committee said he expects that Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ medical malpractice insurance reform plan will not become law without major revisions.

“The mayor’s bill doesn’t really have a chance because of the imposition of liability caps,” said committee Chairman David A. Catania, at-large independent and a corporate lawyer. “So I am looking at other ways to address the issue to come together to find some middle ground.”

Mr. Catania’s panel is one of three committees considering the mayor’s Health Care Reform Act of 2005. The judiciary panel and the consumer and regulatory affairs panel also are considering the measure.

The plan, which died in the council last year, would not cap economic damages but would limit most pain-and-suffering payouts to $250,000 against physicians and to $500,000 against hospitals.

It also would eliminate a patient’s ability to sue a doctor who provided free health care.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the consumer and regulatory affairs committee, said he has not reviewed the mayor’s plan and had taken no position on it.

Judiciary panel Chairman Phil Mendelson has said increased insurance rates aggravate the health care problem.

“I think there is definitely a problem,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “But it is too simple to say that it is the fault of lawyers. … If there was never a mistake in the operating room, then insurance rates would be very low.”

Vince Morris, the mayor’s spokesman, said Mr. Williams is aware that key council members oppose his legislation but feels “he is on the right side of the debate.”

“The mayor is hoping that changing times and the pressure from almost the entire medical community in favor of this proposal is enough to sway some council members,” Mr. Morris said.

He also said the mayor is meeting with council members and the Medical Society of the District of Columbia to talk about medical-malpractice reform as a priority.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, said the insurance costs are driving doctors out of the city.

K. Edward Shanbacker, executive vice president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, said the legislation is needed to retain doctors in the city. He said 61 physicians have stopped providing obstetric care and only 80 obstetricians still practice in the city.

The Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, a group of about 500 trial lawyers, opposes the plan, saying it would be unfair to patients.

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