- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

An orthopedic surgeon who served on a D.C. Council task force on medical-malpractice insurance reform said yesterday that the panel’s recommendations, which will be released next week, are “insufficient,” compared with a plan submitted by Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

“By itself, there is no way it will work,” said Dr. Peter E. Lavine, chairman of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia. “Maybe as an adjunct in the mayor’s bill, but not as a stand-alone bill by itself.”

City officials have sought to address a looming crisis as rising malpractice insurance premiums prompt doctors in high-risk specialties to move out of the District.

Dr. Lavine was one of eight members of the malpractice task force, which convened in May and ended yesterday. D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the Committee on Health, led the task force and limited its scope to patient-safety and insurance reforms.

Mr. Catania yesterday did not return a call seeking comment.

Among other recommendations, Dr. Lavine said, the task force calls for a 90-day notification for malpractice lawsuits and early mandatory mediation before funds are spent on discovery.

“The minor legal things that we discussed were helpful, but they are not going to solve the problem,” the surgeon said yesterday.

“What we need is tort reform,” he said, “and so far the mayor’s bill is the only bill out there that has a chance of solving the crisis in the District of Columbia, and that is because the mayor’s bill is balanced. It’s got all the patient safety, insurance reform and tort reform.”

Mr. Williams’ plan, which appears unlikely to pass in the council, includes a call for limiting most jury payouts for pain and suffering in malpractice lawsuits to $250,000 against physicians and to $500,000 against hospitals.

Dr. Lavine, an advocate for city physicians, also criticized a malpractice reform bill offered by council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, an at-large Democrat who is considering a run for mayor next year.

Her Medical Malpractice Insurance Reform Amendment Act of 2005 focuses on changing insurance regulations to stem rising malpractice premiums. The bill has 10 co-sponsors among the 13-member council.

“At some point, the city council is going to have to take on the tough issue of tort reform,” Dr. Lavine said. “Right now, they will be able to say, ‘We have done something.’ But have they done the right thing? I think the answer to that question is clearly not.”

The Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, which has about 500 members, also has opposed the mayor’s plan, saying it would be unfair to patients.

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