- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

Maryland lawmakers are divided over holding a special General Assembly session on medical malpractice insurance crisis as the holiday season quickly approaches.

“I believe the majority of the members of the House will come back for a special session to fix this problem,” said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery County Democrat.

But Delegate Clarence “Tiger” Davis said he was reluctant to return for a special session before the General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 12.

“I am not excited about coming back anytime before January,” said Mr. Davis, Baltimore Democrat. “If malpractice is that important, then two months won’t make a big difference. It will simply give all legislators two months to review the issue and review all options for remedies for the problem.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has said he has “no timetable” for lawmakers to meet in special session to address rising medical malpractice insurance premiums before a 33 percent rate increase takes effect by year’s end.

“The quicker we get [an agreement] done then, obviously, the more likely we are to have a special session,” said Mr. Ehrlich, adding that a Monday meeting on the topic with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. yielded few tangible results.

Mr. Ehrlich has been working with Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both Democrats, on a plan to resolve the issue this year.

“We continue to talk,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “Negotiations are difficult, but we making progress every time we talk.”

For a special session to be valid, 71 of the House’s 141 delegates and 24 of the Senate’s 47 members would have to attend. A notice for a public meeting generally is posted two weeks beforehand.

Mr. Busch has supported the governor’s malpractice reform efforts, but Mr. Miller, a trial lawyer, has opposed them.

Delegate Obie Patterson, Prince George’s County Democrat, said he would not return if no deal has been worked out between Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Miller.

“We needed to have a commitment from the governor, speaker and the president, and know that they are fully in line to resolve the issue, relative to malpractice insurance,” he said. “In other words, I don’t want to have to go tracking up to Annapolis and they have not agreed on a solution.”

Delegate Victor R. Ramirez, a Prince George’s County Democrat and trial lawyer, gave his unconditional support to a special session.

“I know the problem needs to get resolved and if that requires us coming back then that is something we are going to have to consider,” he said.

Last month, Mr. Ehrlich offered a draft bill that would implement tort reform, limit malpractice lawsuits and create a stop-loss fund to help insurers.

Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, the state’s largest malpractice insurer, has received state approval for the 33 percent rate increase this year. The increase follows a 10 percent increase two years ago and a 28 percent increase last year.

State officials have said such increases will force doctors to close their practices or leave the state. The latest increase will force some doctors to pay as much as $150,000 a year in malpractice insurance premiums.

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