- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — A month after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. submitted legislation to give doctors relief from soaring malpractice-insurance premiums, he received a final report from a task force he created to recommend solutions to the health care industry’s insurance crisis.

The report released yesterday contains 38 recommendations, including key elements of the bill that the governor proposed last month.

The findings of the Governor’s Task Force on Medical Malpractice and Health Care Access will be part of the mix of reports, recommendations and bills that will be considered by the General Assembly when it takes up the malpractice-insurance crisis.

A state Senate committee also has been holding hearings on the issue and will wrap up its work next month.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both Democrats, have met several times over the past three months to discuss the possibility of a special session of the legislature to consider changes in the law that would help hold the line on increases in malpractice premiums.

Bills that will come due in December are up 33 percent from the current year, and some doctors in high-risk specialties such as obstetrics and neurosurgery have said they cannot afford the higher premiums and will have to shut down or curtail their practices.

If nothing is done at a special session, malpractice insurance is expected to be a top issue at the 2005 General Assembly, which begins in January.

Major recommendations by the governor’s task force are contained in Mr. Ehrlich’s bill, including changes in the law that would make it harder to bring lawsuits and would reduce the cost of malpractice settlements.

The task force also recommends limits on lawyers’ fees, a proposal included in Mr. Ehrlich’s bill that has been criticized by Mr. Miller and some other Senate leaders.

The report also proposes putting stricter requirements on expert witnesses and would allow for binding arbitration for patients who have claims against doctors.

The 22-member task force, headed by retired Judge Raymond Thieme Jr., included a mix of lawyers, doctors, legislators and Ehrlich administration officials.

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