- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. yesterday said a special session on medical malpractice insurance reform this year is highly unlikely.

Mr. Miller, a Prince George’s County Democrat and trial lawyer, cited Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s reluctance to identify a funding source to pay medical insurers for a 33 percent increase in doctors’ malpractice insurance rates as a primary reason for the impasse.

“Unless there is a way to avoid a rate increase, there is no need for a special session,” said Mr. Miller, who has opposed the Republican governor’s tort-reform efforts. “I don’t think there will be a special session.”

But Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell yesterday said the governor remains “cautiously optimistic” that he can persuade Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch to arrange a special legislative session just before Christmas.

“We hope to have a meeting this week, but nothing is confirmed or scheduled,” Mr. Fawell said.

Mr. Ehrlich, who has led the reform effort, has not publicly discussed the cost or indicated how he would pay medical insurers. However, a key senator involved in malpractice insurance reform has said the cost is estimated at $30 million to $50 million.

The governor has said no money from the state’s general fund will be used and that he will not consider a tax on health maintenance organizations that would generate about $80 million.

Mr. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat who has supported Mr. Ehrlich’s reform efforts, could not be reached for comment.

Maryland doctors have said that a 33 percent increase in their malpractice insurance premiums will force them out of business or out of the state, having already absorbed a 28 percent increase last year and a 10 percent increase in 2002.

In Western Maryland on Saturday, a coalition of doctors demanded that Frederick County’s two state senators and six House delegates work toward relieving them of their higher insurance premiums.

The physicians’ group — Save Our Doctors, Protect Our Patients — has suggested a five-point plan that includes a tort-reform package modeled after California’s reform law, which limits to $250,000 jury awards for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering. Maryland limits such jury awards to $635,000.

The Save Our Doctors plan calls for:

• More competition among insurance providers.

• Creation of “health care courts” similar to those in Indiana that block frivolous lawsuits.

• Rules requiring expert witnesses to have the same specialty as the doctors on trial.

Higher insurance premium payments went into effect Dec. 1 and are to be paid in full by Dec. 31. The 33 percent increase will cost some doctors as much as $150,000 per year.

Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, the state’s largest insurer of doctors, has said it is burdened by a surge in malpractice payouts.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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