Md. Set to Release Med-Mal Subsidy Funds to Doctors

May 17, 2005

Almost five months after the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation to reduce malpractice premiums for doctors in high-risk specialties, the Ehrlich administration is ready to release state funds that will be used to reduce premiums for many physicians and surgeons.

Budget Secretary James “Chip” DiPaula said Monday he and Gov. Robert Ehrlich were prepared to sign off on a request for funding from Alfred Redmer, state insurance commissioner. The money will be used to hold premium increases to a maximum of 5 percent instead of the 33 percent that was planned by the company that insures most Maryland doctors.

“That will certainly be good news for physician’s offices, many of which are feeling quite squeezed,” T. Michael Preston, executive director of the Maryland State Medical Society, said.

Third quarter bills from Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland are due to go out next week, and lawmakers have been pressuring the Ehrlich administration to release the money so the reduction in premiums could be included in the May bills.

Legislation to provide a $27 million subsidy to hold the line on premium increases was approved at a special session of the General Assembly held in December. Ehrlich, who had wanted more substantial changes in laws regulating malpractice suits, vetoed the bill, but the veto was overridden by the legislature in January.

Top Democratic lawmakers said Redmer was delaying approval of the funding because of Ehrlich’s unhappiness with the legislature’s refusal to approve the bill he introduced.

“All they’ve been doing is make excuses about why it hasn’t been done and why it can’t be done,” Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, said.

Redmer had taken the position that the money would not be available until the law takes effect July 1, and Frosh said General Assembly leaders had to take the initiative to get an opinion from the state attorney general that the money could be released before July 1.

“They could have made the request in March when we passed the bill. They’ve had lots of time to get this done,” Frosh said.

Redmer denied that there had been any intentional delay and said employees in his office “did a terrific job of creating a process that will allow this to be done quickly and correctly.”

He said the law specified the state could not provide the money until he got a request for funds from the insurance company, and ‘”that came last Monday or Tuesday.”

“I know the governor’s office is poised to respond as quickly as possible,” he said. “Once we get the approval, we have everything in place to turn it around in a day or two.”

A spokesman for Medical Mutual declined a request to comment on the implementation of the law and would not say whether the reduced premiums will be included in the bills that will go out this month.

But Preston said the company indicated it is “prepared to do that as soon as the funds are on hand …”

The medical society and the Maryland Hospital Association have been campaigning for changes in state law to discourage what they say are frivolous lawsuits that are driving up the cost of malpractice insurance to the point that it is causing doctors to retire early or leave the state. While they had hoped for more restrictions on lawsuits, the two organizations supported the bill passed in December as a temporary way to relieve a crushing financial burden caused by premium increases on high-risk specialties such as neurosurgery, obstetrics and trauma room surgery.

“Certainly everybody is getting tired of waiting for this,” Dr. Thomas Chappell, an internist from Cumberland, said.

“It will help those who are at great risk,” he said. “It doesn’t help us out here in western Maryland where we don’t have enough obstetricians, where we don’t have enough orthopedists, where he have trauma service hanging by a thread.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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