- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

About 100 doctors in Prince George’s and Washington counties yesterday began a slowdown of non-emergency work to draw attention to Maryland’s looming medical-malpractice insurance crisis.

Sixty-two doctors at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, Md., have taken the week off, rescheduling elective procedures. About 40 doctors at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly took yesterday off to protest escalating insurance premiums, organizers said.

“We are used to working and seeing patients,” said Dr. Karl P. Riggle, a Hagerstown general surgeon and work-slowdown organizer. “Instead, we have decided to get together to lobby for statewide reform.”

Dr. Willie C. Blair, a general and trauma surgeon and president of the medical staff at Prince George’s Hospital Center, agreed.

“I don’t know whether the [state] Senate knows this or not, but they are playing Russian roulette with the citizens’ health in this state,” said Dr. Blair, an organizer of the slowdown.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat, have been unable to agree on measures to address the crisis for a special session of the General Assembly before a 33 percent increase in malpractice-insurance premiums takes effect next month.

“Until a resolution is reached, the crisis will continue,” Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said. “The governor is still very much committed to reaching a legislative solution before the upcoming session.”

Dr. Riggle, who served on the Governor’s Task Force on Medical Malpractice, said Mr. Ehrlich is scheduled to meet with Mr. Miller and state House Speaker Michael E. Busch twice this week about a special session.

The governor’s task force has ended and is scheduled to submit its recommendations this month.

Meanwhile, the hospitals in Prince George’s and Washington counties have been able to accommodate patients requiring emergency care.

“We have not seen a drop in our number of surgeries,” said Bob Howell, a Prince George’s Hospital Center spokesman. “We are still seeing patients, and that’s the bottom line.”

James P. Hamill, president and chief executive officer of the Washington County Health System, said, “This is only affecting elective surgeries . .. . The physicians gave us a couple of months’ notice, so we were prepared.”

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.

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

Mr. Miller last week removed Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat and a medical insurance broker, from the Judicial Proceedings Committee and replaced him with Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., Baltimore County Democrat and a trial lawyer who works for the law firm of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.

The state’s largest medical insurance supplier — the Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland — has said it is suffering from a surge in malpractice payouts. The insurer, which covers about 6,000 doctors statewide, has been authorized to increase premiums by 33 percent on Dec. 31, after having raised premiums by 28 percent last year and 10 percent the year before.

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

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