Md. Doctors, Insurers Work on Med-Mal Fund

June 17, 2004

Maryland doctors, insurers and lawmakers are working to contain the skyrocketing cost of medical malpractice insurance, which medical professionals say is driving some doctors out of business and leaving residents without access to health care.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich said he is “willing to look at any idea that leads to a bottom-line result.”

Insurance industry leaders presented a plan last week to Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and are expected to submit it to Ehrlich today.

A state Senate commission also met in Annapolis this week on the issue, which gained prominence last fall when the state’s largest malpractice insurer, Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, raised premiums 28 percent.

In the past two years, claims paid by Medical Mutual jumped from $49.5 million in 2001 to more than $73 million in the first 10 months of last year, according to David L. Murray, Medical Mutual’s president.

Busch called the insurance industry’s plan “a stopgap measure” that would call on the state to assume the costs if malpractice judgments rise so much that insurers cannot afford to keep rates steady.

Busch said the plan would rely, at least in part, on a special fund administered by the state’s insurance commissioner. The fund could be fed by a tax on HMOs, an approach the governor does not support.

Medical malpractice reform was Ehrlich’s top priority during this year’s legislative session, but his proposal to limit court awards to malpractice victims was rejected by the Senate.

Busch acknowledged he had concerns about a state fund.

“The problem I have with it, is really what you’re doing is asking the state to underwrite both the doctors and the trial bar,” Busch said.

Ehrlich said Monday that he will wait to hear the details but that he is still committed to a solution that includes some level of tort reform.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), both trial lawyers, argue that more study is needed before the state moves to limit claims.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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