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Surgery slowdown still planned, but with some change

November 14, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Several Washington County physicians still are planning to cut back on their work on Monday - a reaction to surging malpractice insurance rates.

Dr. Karl Riggle, a surgeon helping to organize the protest, said the plan has changed some since the slowdown was announced in September.

At first, the idea was to have as many physicians as possible stop performing nonemergency surgery to draw attention to their situation, Riggle said.

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Now, a smaller group of physicians is cutting back on their work this week to spend time lobbying and fighting for change, he said. Other doctors will cover for them, lessening the effect of the shortage.

Riggle said Friday that more than 70 percent of elective surgeries have been postponed.

For a time, talk about a special session by the Maryland General Assembly appeared to ward off the slowdown.

But as negotiations among lawmakers and Gov. Robert Ehrlich stalled, the physicians renewed their promise to stop performing nonemergency procedures.

"The senior House leadership is fully committed to a special session," Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, the chief deputy majority whip in the House, said Friday. "We have the votes."

Donoghue said members of the House signed a petition calling for a special session.

Members of the Senate, however, had not done the same.

Donoghue said that House Speaker Michael Busch, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and Ehrlich are scheduled to meet this week.

A 2 percent tax on HMOs - to create a fund to help pay malpractice awards - has been floated as a possible short-term solution.

Miller has said he supports creating a fund. Ehrlich and Busch have called for deeper changes.

Donoghue said the General Assembly would work on a more permanent solution during its next regular session, which starts in January.

Riggle said he has heard that the 2 percent tax - actually, the elimination of a 2 percent discount for HMOs - could generate about $50 million.

He said the fund is "one of the ways to handle" reform, but the doctors want a more comprehensive package of changes.

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