- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Ehrlich administration yesterday released an executive summary of its bill aimed at averting Maryland’s medical-malpractice insurance crisis.

The bill will be the focus of a special legislative session on the issue Tuesday. It calls for disciplining lawyers who file “frivolous cases” under a new “three strikes” law and for allowing health care providers the right to apologize without it being considered an admission of guilt in a malpractice case.

A key provision in the bill would create a stop-loss fund that would cover a 33 percent increase in doctors’ malpractice-insurance premiums for three years.

The stop-loss fund has been a point of contention between Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and Democratic legislative leaders.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both Democrats, favor lifting a tax credit for health maintenance organizations (HMOs), which they estimate would generate up to $70 million to cover the higher insurance premiums.

Mr. Ehrlich has said he won’t even consider lifting the HMO tax credit and has warned Democrats not to play “tax politics” during the special session.

Noting the tension between the governor and Democrats over the stop-loss fund, Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell said yesterday the administration is more concerned about “The goal is not to have a time frame for a special session, but a solution to the crisis,” Mr. Fawell said. “Once the solution is agreed upon, we hope everything will be easy to solve from there.”

The short-term relief for doctors’ insurance costs is a key issue because state physicians are required to have paid in full by Dec. 31 a 30 percent increase in their malpractice premiums. Doctors across the state have said the rate increase could force them out of the state or out of business.

A coalition of Maryland doctors has drafted a 23-point legislative plan that includes a provision for lifting the HMO tax credit to create a stop-loss fund that would cover increases in malpractice-insurance premiums for the next three years.

Dubbed the Medical Access Comprehensive Reform Act, or MACRA, the doctors’ plan also calls for ending arbitration in health-claims cases and setting up a “health court” within the county circuit-court system that emphasizes mediation in settling malpractice claims.

Legislative hearings on the Ehrlich administration’s bill will begin Monday, and the special session will get under way on Tuesday.

It will be the first special session in Maryland since a budget-focused session was held in 1992.

A special session will cost taxpayers $45,000 a day, according to a study by the state’s Department of Legislative Services.



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