- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Key Maryland lawmakers have received a deluge of calls and letters from doctors and patients requesting action to avert a medical-malpractice insurance crisis.

“It is not even so much the lobbyists,” said state Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat and a member of the Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance and the Judicial Proceedings committees. “I have been getting letters from doctors, medical providers and from patients.”

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Medical Malpractice and Health Care Access and of the Judiciary Committee, said he has had a “very high” level of contact from people concerned about an upcoming insurance-premium increase, which some doctors say will drive them out of business.

“We have listened to any number of people who are concerned,” said Mr. O’Donnell, Calvert County Republican. “We have heard from patients who are going to lose their doctor. Some have already lost their doctors. And we have listened to many practitioners who have discontinued their practice. And there is no doubt in my mind we are in the midst of a crisis.”

Even Delegate Theodore J. Sophocleus, who does not serve on a medical-malpractice reform commission, said “about half” of the hundreds of e-mails he has received about the issue are form letters from all over the state.

“One reason for the response might be because I am a pharmacist,” said Mr. Sophocleus, Anne Arundel Democrat.

A group of Maryland doctors, using the Web site www.saveourdoctors.org, has begun to step up its lobbying efforts to persuade lawmakers to address the looming medical-insurance crisis. A 33 percent increase in insurance premiums is set to take effect by the end of the year.

“[Lawmakers] need to hear a growing chorus of Maryland physicians, health professionals and concerned citizens demanding comprehensive common-sense reform now,” said Dr. Karl P. Riggle, chairman of the surgical department at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown and a leader of physicians’ lobbying efforts.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has been working with Democratic legislative leaders to develop an insurance-relief plan before year’s end.

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, after persuading the doctors’ group not to stage a work slowdown.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat and a trial lawyer, has declined to support the plan, owing to its tort provisions.

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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