- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Maryland State Medical Society is urging doctors to close their offices today and withhold routine medical care during a rally in Annapolis to protest rising malpractice insurance rates.

The medical society, also called MedChi, wants state lawmakers to pass four bills that would limit damages in malpractice cases.

The measures would cap attorneys’ fees and allow doctors to spread payments for malpractice settlements over an extended period of time instead of a lump sum.

Mike Preston, MedChi executive director, said doctors are being forced out of business, retiring or moving out of state as their malpractice insurance bills rise.

“More than 2,000 physicians are turning out for this rally in order to make the point that medical malpractice lawsuits are damaging our health care system,” Dr. Preston said. “The General Assembly needs to act this year or Maryland will have a crisis akin to other states, like Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania is one of 19 states the American Medical Association lists as being in a “crisis” because of a scarcity of medical care as a result of high insurance costs.

“The payout in claims continues to increase,” said Donald Palmisano, AMA president, who plans to speak today during the rally on the steps of the Maryland statehouse. “Maryland is one of the states showing problems. We don’t want Maryland to go into crisis.”

MedChi started a television-ad campaign last week to win support for the reforms it seeks.

Among the demands is a limit on “pain and suffering” damages that MedChi says should be lowered from $635,000 to $350,000.

MedChi says insurance premiums rose 28 percent in the last year for many doctors.

However, the doctors acknowledge they face significant opposition.

A group of trial lawyers is preparing an advertising campaign to counter the one sponsored by MedChi in the Washington and Baltimore areas.

Other opponents include Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., the Maryland Senate president, who has said the reforms proposed by MedChi have little hope of approval.

Insurance companies argue that as medical liability claims rise, they have no choice but to raise insurance rates.

Most of the insurance companies that provided medical malpractice policies in Maryland a decade ago have become insolvent or stopped selling the policies because of low profitability.

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