- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said he plans to deliver a revised medical-malpractice insurance reform bill to Democratic legislative leaders next week but declined to say how he would pay for the plan.

“The revised bill is a function of negotiations,” Mr. Ehrlich said, “and, also additional observations on collateral issues that the [House] speaker, the [Senate] president or myself [have] thought, ‘Maybe we should incorporate this in the bill.’”

The Republican governor has been working with House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. on a malpractice reform measure for a special General Assembly session before a 33 percent increase in insurance premiums takes effect Dec. 31.

Doctors have said the higher premiums will drive them out of business or out of the state. Their first payments of the higher premiums are due Dec. 1.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat, and Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, met with Mr. Ehrlich yesterday on the issue. They said the governor likely will use the state’s general fund to provide relief for medical insurers, who say they have been swamped by payments for malpractice settlements.

But Mr. Ehrlich, who on Wednesday ended consideration of a tax on health maintenance organizations (HMOs) to fund malpractice insurance relief, dismissed the idea of using general-fund revenue.

“That in fact is not the case,” he said, without identifying his plan’s funding source. “I am not going to negotiate that provision in the press. I have made the point that there are several funds that are potentially available … The general fund is obviously the re-insurance fund.”

Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch had favored the HMO plan, which would have provided about $80 million for insurance relief.

Mr. Busch, who has supported the bulk of the governor’s tort-reform plans, has said the House is “on board” no matter what the funding source is.

However, Mr. Miller, a trail lawyer, has had problems with Mr. Ehrlich’s efforts to limit malpractice litigation.

“I think all three sides grew closer to one another,” Mr. Miller said of yesterday’s meeting.

Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller said they would meet with Mr. Ehrlich again Wednesday, but no major announcement is expected until after the Senate’s Special Commission on Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance concludes its findings at its next meeting, Dec. 1.

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.

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