- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

Maryland officials are considering using $30 million to $50 million in taxpayer funds to cover doctors’ higher malpractice-insurance premiums, said a lawmaker involved in the state’s tort-reform efforts.

State Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat, estimated the cost of proposals that would offset a 33 percent increase in doctors’ premiums this year, saying the actual cost could differ from what is anticipated.

“We are trying to get our arms around it,” said Mr. Garagiola, a member of the Senate’s Special Commission on Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance. “I don’t have a hard-and-fast number, and part of it is there are multiple ways to design this … . It could be limited to a subset of doctors.”

Mr. Garagiola, a real-estate lawyer, is one of 12 members of a Senate-commissioned panel that has recommended better reporting of medical misadventures, requiring the losing side to pay litigation costs and increasing malpractice deductibles, among 14 other suggestions aimed at reining in malpractice insurance costs.

The commission is scheduled to vote on its findings on Dec. 1, the day doctors will begin paying higher insurance premiums, which, they say, could force them out of business or out of the state.

Unlike Mr. Garagiola, other key players in tort reform have been unwilling or unable to estimate its cost to taxpayers.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has led the reform effort, has not publicly discussed the cost or indicated how he would pay companies that insure doctors.

However, the Republican governor has said no money from the state’s general fund will be used and has nixed a proposed tax on health maintenance organizations (HMOs), which would have generated an estimated $80 million.

Mr. Ehrlich has been working with the Democratic legislative leaders to craft a malpractice-insurance reform plan for a special General Assembly session before the end of the year.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who both had favored the HMO plan, have not commented on the cost of the plan.

Officials for the Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, the Medical Protective Co. and the Doctors Co., all of which provide malpractice insurance for state doctors, did not return calls seeking comment.

Medical Mutual, the state’s largest insurer of doctors, has said it requires a 33 percent increase in premiums for malpractice settlements, which have risen in the past year.

The insurer, which covers about 6,000 Maryland doctors, 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 previous year.

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