On the malpractice issue, what did other states do?

October 28, 2004

Members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly talked about everything from schools to Interstate 81 yesterday at the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's pre-legislative breakfast.

But all agreed the most important issue they face is the soaring price increase in medical malpractice insurance.

A number of local physicians had proposed stopping all but emergency procedures as of Nov. 15 to protest the state's decision to allow Medical Mutual, the physician-run insurer that represents most Maryland doctors, a 33 percent increase, on average, in its rates.

Note: That's an average increase. For some specialists, rates could go up 175 percent.

Since the company is run by physicians, its object is not to make a profit, but to make sure it has enough cash to cover any awards. And, doctors say, those awards are too large and too frequent.

Unless there are some changes, doctors have said that they have few options - move to other states, stop treating high-risk patients or quit practice altogether.


As Del. Christopher B. Shank said Wednesday, all the economic-development efforts the county has made will mean nothing if prospective employers can't get health care for their employees.

Shank said that Gov. Robert Ehrlich recently put the finishing touches on his plan to correct the situation. Its major points include:

· Requiring upfront mediation of all malpractice claims.

· Placing a "reasonable cap" on attorneys' fees.

· Revising the way economic damages are calculated.

· Writing new regulations on what Shank called "hired guns," the doctors who testify as expert witnesses on behalf of defendants.

Shank said the proposal to create a "stop-loss" fund to offset the cost of malpractice insurance may be embraced as a temporary measure in a special session that could be called in mid-November, if lawmakers also agree to work on a more comprehensive solution.

We agree with Shank and others that subsidizing rates is only a temporary fix. The ultimate solution may come from a question that was asked on Wednesday, but not really answered:

If doctors are fleeing Maryland for other states, where are they going and how have those states solved, or at least improved, the problem of soaring malpractice insurance rates?

In other words, has any other state solved this problem, and if so, how was that accomplished? If the General Assembly can borrow a good idea from somewhere else, it beats the heck out of trying to reinvent the wheel in Maryland.

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