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How about the uninsured?

November 16, 2003

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich will step into the medical malpractice fray in the 2004 General Assembly session, after declaring that many of the state's "best and brightest" doctors are retiring because of rising costs. We hope the governor will also take a look at how to cover the more than 500,000 Marylanders now without health insurance.

Ehrlich made his comments about the malpractice issue Wednesday, at a health care summit jointly sponsored by his administration and legislative leaders. His comments came after an announcement by the Maryland Mutual Liability Insurance Society that it would increase its rates by 28 percent.

But Bowie attorney Kevin McCarthy told The Associated Press that there is no crisis and pointed out that Maryland Mutual gave the doctors it covered a 22 percent refund on their premiums last year.

McCarthy told AP that the combination of the raise and rebate make no sense. But if the company anticipated more claims than were made, the rebate was probably more welcome than not. It also may signal an insurer's willingness to reward doctors for policing their own ranks and practicing more careful medicine. If so, it could be a model for other states.

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What wasn't said at the summit was how changes in malpractice law would assist those Marylanders who have no health-care insurance. Nelson Sabatini, the Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, in August proposed a new plan based on offering tax credits to employers. But Sabatini hasn't found the revenue such an approach will require.

But something Sabatini said at the summit may lead to a solution. He noted that none of last year's graduates of the University of Maryland medical school chose a residency in obstetrics, presumably because it has the highest malpractice insurance rates.

Might Maryland alter that situation if it agreed to pick up the insurance tab for such specialists, in agreement for working so many hours at clinics serving the public?

That may go against the grain for Republicans who support the free-enterprise model, but as others have pointed out, buying medical care is not like buying a car. Citizens can decide to nurse their old clunkers along for a few more months, but health care is often an immediate need. We hope when the governor is dealing with doctors' insurance problems, he remembers those of their patients as well.

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