- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2005

BALTIMORE — Imploring lawmakers to follow the physician’s oath to “first, do no harm,” a coalition of doctors said yesterday that a medical-malpractice reform bill passed last week should become law, despite the bill’s shortcomings.

The Save Our Doctors Protect Our Patients Coalition commended Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and members of the General Assembly for last week’s special session.

But the group said it was disappointed a conference committee “could not sustain the fuller measure of tort reform approved by the House.”

Still, the group described the final bill as “a step in the right direction for both doctors and patients” that “temporarily preserves access to medical care.”

“If comprehensive long-term tort reform measures are not enacted, we believe that we will be dealing with a recurrence or worsening of this crisis in the near future,” the group said in a statement.

The bill was approved Thursday morning. Mr. Ehrlich has said he will veto the measure, which contains some changes in malpractice law intended to encourage early settlement of malpractice claims.

The measure would reduce costs of damages awarded to patients who say they were harmed by medical mistakes made by health care professionals.

It also will slash the 33 percent rate increase for 2005 to 5 percent and provide money to ensure against similar huge increases the next three years.

The governor criticized the bill for not having enough insurance-reform measures to have a significant impact on the cost of settling malpractice lawsuits.

But it was a tax measure — repealing an exemption for HMOs from the state’s 2 percent insurance-premium tax — that ensured that Mr. Ehrlich would reject the bill.

He said Thursday he will veto it some time this week. However, the legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, could override the veto.

The coalition said it looks forward to working with Mr. Ehrlich and legislators during the coming legislative session to “add more meaningful long-term solutions to resolve the tort crisis that still exists.”

The group said lawmakers still need to address:

• More realistic calculation of future economic damages.

• Protecting access to patient recovery of funds through structured settlements.

• Strengthening protection for physician apologies and benevolent gestures.

• Ending double recovery of damages through collateral sources.

• Ensuring greater award share for plaintiffs through guaranteed fair victim recovery.

• Expanding Good Samaritan protection for emergency room and volunteer care.

• Guaranteeing “speedy-trial rights” by establishing a Health Care Court to fairly and accurately evaluate medical-liability issues.

“We are conducting a comprehensive review of the 79-page legislative bill and will be commenting in the days ahead on other beneficial reforms to be pursued in the general session,” the group said.



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