- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. faces some Democratic opposition to his efforts to reform medical malpractice, which he calls the state’s No. 1 issue.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and state Sen. Brian E. Frosh, both Democrats and trial lawyers, have proven to be the Republican governor’s most formidable opponents. This year, they killed his Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which would have allowed a defendant in a malpractice lawsuit to offer a settlement, urging more study of the issue.

Mr. Miller, 61, of Prince George’s County, represents a diverse district that includes part of Calvert County. He has criticized the legislation, saying Mr. Ehrlich “did not have a bill [but only a] series of proposals.”

Mr. Frosh, 57, of Montgomery County, is chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which killed the governor’s bill, which he said was “too narrowly focused.”

“It was riddled with problems,” Mr. Frosh said. “It wasn’t going to have any impact on [insurance premium] rates.”

He said he favors freezing future rate increases or rolling them back and addressing “insurance regulation, patient safety and tort liability.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch of Anne Arundel County, conversely, has provided Democratic support for Mr. Ehrlich’s reform plan.

Mr. Busch, 57, works for the county’s recreation and parks department. His support for Mr. Ehrlich’s tort-reform plans stands in stark contrast to his opposition to the governor’s proposal to set up slot machines at racetracks — a plan that Mr. Miller has backed.

Other legislative players in medical-malpractice reform include:

• Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, Anne Arundel Democrat, who was alone in crossing party lines to support Mr. Ehrlich’s plan, which called for limiting economic damages, allowing periodic payments on awards of less than $100,000 and reducing the cap on noneconomic damages.

Mr. Jimeno, an insurance agent, could not be reached for comment.

• Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, heads the House Judiciary Committee, which last year helped kill a bill that would have directed revenue from stricter drunken-driving fines to state Medicare payments to offset malpractice payments.

Mr. Vallario objected to the bill, saying that revenue from transportation-related initiatives should be used for transportation-related issues. He works as a trial lawyer who represents people accused of drunken-driving offenses.

• Delegate John G. Trueschler, Baltimore County Republican, last year unsuccessfully proposed increasing vehicle registration fees to help fund Medicare to offset malpractice payments.

“I am in favor of doing what it takes so that the system does not crash,” said Mr. Trueschler, 47.

A nonpracticing family and land-planning lawyer, Mr. Trueschler served on the House speaker’s work group on health care and medical-malpractice reform.

• Sen. James Brochin, 40, Baltimore County Democrat, voted against the governor’s bill in the Judicial Proceedings Committee and instead favored increasing vehicle-registration fees to pay down malpractice claims.

A medical insurance broker, Mr. Brochin said he now favors fellow Democratic Sen. Rob Garagiola’s plan to institute new fees and raising penalties for drunken and reckless drivers for a stop-loss fund.

“I believe it is our job to go in and work out a deal,” said Mr. Brochin, who favors a special session on the issue. “I think we should be proactive on this issue.”

• Mr. Garagiola, 32, a Montgomery County member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said his defeated Driver Responsibility Act would have imposed annual fines of $1,000 on those who receive excessive drunken-driving fines over a three-year period. It also would have penalized reckless drivers who have at least five points on their driving records. The fines would have been used to offset medical-malpractice costs.

“We clearly have a problem we need to address,” said Mr. Garagiola, a corporate business lawyer. “We are talking about real money. We are talking about reducing traffic fatalities and saving lives.”

• Sen. Alexander X. Mooney, Frederick County Republican, said the state “desperately needs the governor’s bill,” adding that he is sensitive to the issue because his wife is a physician.

“The only thing that stopped [the bill] was the committee,” said Mr. Mooney, one of only four of the Judicial Proceeding Committee’s 11 members who voted for the bill. “And I think if presented again, the governor’s bill will pass next year.”

Mr. Ehrlich, a lawyer with a background in tort defense, has not ruled out a special session to resolve the problem. He has said that rising insurance costs and jury awards are driving doctors out of business and out of the state.

In June, the governor asked more than 20 lawmakers, doctors, lawyers, insurers and others to find a solution by the end of next month to the state’s rising malpractice-insurance costs.

Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, the primary insurer of Maryland doctors, received a 33 percent rate increase this year because of large lawsuit losses. The rate-increase request came after a 10 percent increase two years ago and a 28 percent increase last year.

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