Legislation that would offer doctors immediate relief from increases in malpractice insurance premiums and hold the line on future rate hikes was presented to the Maryland General Assembly leaders this week by Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
Ehrlich would not disclose details of his plan, but told reporters it is a combination of bills he introduced last year and bills put together in the House of Delegates. He said he hopes it will provide the framework for legislation that can be passed at a special session of the General Assembly next month.
“It is, I think, a very sound bill,” the governor said. He indicated his willingness to accept changes to meet legislative objections.
“I would hope there would be a lot of cooperation” with House and Senate leaders, Ehrlich said.
The governor met with House Speaker Michael Busch, an ally on the medical malpractice issues, Monday afternoon before submitting a copy of his bill to the speaker.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who generally opposes limits on malpractice settlements, said he was not invited to the meeting and did not know any details of the bill.
“I’m willing to work with them and meet with them and solve the problem,” Miller said. But he said he would not agree to impose significant restrictions on the right to file malpractice lawsuits, which he criticized as “part of a right wing Republican agenda.”
Maryland’s largest insurer for doctors, Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society, raised rates 28 percent last year and will increase them again by 33 percent in premium notices going out in November.
Doctors from across the state, especially those in high-risk specialties such as obstetrics and neurosurgery, have warned they will retire early, cut back their practices or move out of state unless Maryland steps in quickly to reduce premiums.
Ehrlich said one part of his plan would incorporate Miller’s proposal to forestall the 33 percent premium increase by having the state underwrite losses to insurers if payments of malpractice claims outstrip premiums. He also wants to restrict the cost of malpractice settlements to guard against future premium hikes.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press
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