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Md. lawmakers seek special session on medical malpractice

October 20, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including several legislative leaders, is urging Gov. Robert Ehrlich to call a special session of the Maryland General Assembly to find solutions to the medical malpractice crisis "as soon as practical."

And they have some suggestions about what those solutions might be.

The group, which includes Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, and Sen. John Hafer, R-Washington/Allegany, issued a news release Tuesday asking for immediate creation of a state-funded pool to subsidize malpractice insurance premiums charged to Maryland physicians.

Group members also want long-term reforms, including reforming attorneys' fees "so victims could receive a greater share of awards or settlements." Additionally, they want increased backing for the Maryland Patient Safety Center, a collaboration between the Maryland Hospital Association and the Delmarva Foundation that focuses on educating health-care providers to prevent errors.

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"We've had task forces, studies and exhaustive debate on medical liability reform," House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said in the release. "Now we have to take action to provide Maryland doctors with the immediate relief they need so that they can continue to serve patients in the future."

Donoghue said the group was "trying to do as much as we can in one bill," though he acknowledged other ideas likely would be put forward.

That's why they included caps on attorneys' fees, he said. He said that reform mainly targets large firms from other states that command large fees or large referral fees.

Donoghue said bipartisan support, coupled with recognition by trial lawyers that "there's a lot of hysteria out there and a lot of anger directed at their profession," helped.

Although the plan includes a state fund to subsidize premiums for malpractice insurance, Donoghue said he hopes long-term insurance reforms - including a requirement to pay 1 percent of settlements to the Maryland Patient Safety Center - will lead to "a solution that won't be a burden to the taxpayer."

In addition to Donoghue, Hafer and Barve, the group includes Sen. John Astle, D-Anne Arundel, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; House Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County; and Del. Wade Kach, R-Baltimore County.

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