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Seeking a malpractice fix

June 22, 2004

Maryland's doctors and trial lawyers announced their proposed solution to the state's malpractice crisis last week - creation of a $25 million pool of state tax money to pay for insurance increases.

Given Gov. Robert Ehrlich's opposition to any tax increase that could raise that much cash, the idea seems like a long shot. But the good news is that doctors and lawyers have agreed on something.

The bad news is that the two sides don't have much time to decide on how to move forward. The state's largest writer of medical malpractice policies, the Mutual Liability Society of Maryland, may seek a 40 percent increase in fees - on top of the 28 percent increase put in place last fall.

The Baltimore Sun quoted T. Michael Preston, director of Maryland MedChi, as saying that if the rate increase goes through, many obstetricians would pay $95,000 to $100,000 per year for coverage.

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Ehrlich and others fear doctors will leave the state or quit medicine altogether. To seek a solution, he's putting together the Governor's Task Force on Access to Heath Care, which would report in mid-November.

State Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller has also put together a commission, which is looking at how other states handled similar crises.

That's the approach we favor. Rising malpractice insurance rates, fueled in part by increasing damage awards, aren't unique to Maryland. Other states that have wrestled with this problem may have found a solution that doesn't require one side to do all the sacrificing.

No one wants to deny a patient injured by a careless medical mistake the cash they need to cope with what may be a permanent injury. But there has to be some thought given to those patients who'll have no doctor at all if a solution to this problem isn't found.

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