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Some docs say slowdown might be unnecessary

October 06, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Several Washington County physicians could still stop doing certain surgical procedures Nov. 15, but local physician leaders said they were more optimistic Tuesday that the slowdown might not be necessary.

Facing double-digit rate increases for malpractice insurance, several Washington County physicians groups on Sept. 23 said they would stop performing nonemergency surgery on Nov. 15.

Tuesday's optimism occurred after a meeting between Gov. Robert Ehrlich and doctors Monday where they expressed concerns regarding problems with the malpractice liability system.

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"I'm absolutely more optimistic" since the meeting, said Dr. Karl Riggle, one of the four doctors who met with Ehrlich.

Dr. David Solberg, vice chief of staff for Washington County Hospital's medical staff, said the announcement of the slowdown got lawmakers' attention. Solberg said the governor told them a slowdown might not help get legislation passed any more than not having a slowdown.

The four doctors said they agreed, individually, to hold off on plans for a slowdown because the governor seemed sincere, knowledgeable about their plight and said solving the crisis was his administration's No. 1 priority.

"We believe the governor's sincere. Now we have to see if the lawmakers are sincere," said Dr. John Caruso, a neurosurgeon.

Riggle and Caruso said they will re-evaluate in six weeks whether their individual practices would stop doing nonemergency procedures.

That's around Nov. 15, the date several county physicians groups planned to begin the slowdown, saying that would enable them to focus on getting lawmakers to draft legislation to fix the malpractice crisis.

Riggle said he'd heard from about six physicians Tuesday morning who wanted to re-evaluate - around Nov. 15 - whether to initiate a slowdown.

Each doctor has to make that decision on an individual basis, Riggle said.

If there is a slowdown, some procedures that surgeons could stop performing include breast biopsies, colonoscopies and hernia and gallbladder procedures.

Not just surgeons


Several primary-care doctors also were considering participating in the slowdown, which could mean closing their offices one or two days a week or for long stretches, said Dr. Dino J. Delaportas, chief of staff for the Washington County Hospital Association.

Riggle said several doctors have told him that if there is political gridlock and no evidence, they will consider having a slowdown.

Caruso said he wants to see a General Assembly special session to address the malpractice crisis within six weeks to avoid a slowdown at his office. Caruso said he needs to see legitimate attempts at long-term reform, not stop-gap measures.

Donald J. Hogan Jr., the governor's deputy legislative officer, said there's no sense in holding a special session until the governor and leaders of the House and Senate have an agreement in principle to present to lawmakers for a vote.

Ehrlich wants draft legislation before Dec. 1, when many doctors' next malpractice insurance bills are due, Hogan said. The governor was trying to arrange a meeting with House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to discuss the malpractice issues, he said.

November will be a crucial decision-making month for local physicians who get their malpractice insurance bills, Hogan and the local doctors said.

Some doctors are considering whether to leave the state or retire because of the malpractice crisis in Maryland, Caruso said.

33 percent hike


On Sept. 14, the Maryland Insurance Administration approved a 33 percent increase for the Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, which insures most of the state's doctors.

Delaportas said the malpractice crisis isn't just about money. The malpractice system has created a health-care access problem, especially in Washington County, he said.

Delaportas said he would like the governor and state lawmakers to be close to resolving the problem before the end of the year.

He said he was cautiously optimistic a slowdown might not be needed.

The governor appointed Riggle to the Governor's Task Force on Medical Malpractice and Health Care Access and made Caruso an alternate. The two doctors planned to attend a task force meeting on Tuesday night in Annapolis.

The task force is supposed to report to Ehrlich by Nov. 15, although Hogan said he hoped to get something sooner.

The Senate Special Commission on Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance is scheduled to provide its first public comment day today at 2 p.m., said David Brewster, who works for Sen. Brian Frosh.

Speakers must sign up early, usually no later than 1:45 p.m., Brewster said. The hearing will be in 2 East in the Miller Senate Building, 11 Bladen St., Annapolis.

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