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Doctors say they'll continue lobbying effort

November 17, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Local physicians say they intend to keep up their lobbying efforts until progress is made in resolving the state's medical malpractice situation, and some are traveling to Annapolis today to make the point.

Beginning Monday, 50 to 60 physicians postponed elective surgeries at Washington County Hospital to draw attention to rising malpractice insurance costs, and are spending the week lobbying both public officials and the public for relief.

Among those headed to Annapolis was Sal DiMercurio, a Hagerstown plastic surgeon who has canceled all his elective surgeries this week. He wasn't sure how many would be going, but said he didn't "anticipate many busloads of people." His goal, he said, was to get the doctors' message to the public.

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"We need to let our constituents know we really are on their side," he said.

Reactions were mixed to the doctors' actions.

"Of course they have the right to protest," said Hannah Chambers, 23, of Hagerstown. "But when it comes to health care, people need doctors to be at their disposal."

"I feel bad for the physicians. People don't realize how much they have to put out for malpractice (insurance)," said Laura Maddock, 29, of Hagerstown.

"The sad part is we need a better health system anyway - one where people don't have to worry about malpractice," added Marna McPeak, 38, a Hagerstown native who lives in Winchester, Va., but works in Hagerstown.

"I'm pretty much for what they're doing," said Mitchell Towe, 50, of Hagerstown. He said the system needs reform, with caps on awards in malpractice cases.

Orthopedic surgeon Scott Worrell said that for this week, at least, he will perform only those elective surgeries that required "a lot of preoperative preparation" for the patient. What happens next week, he said, depends on whether there's any action by state officials this week.

Worrell and the other physicians want Gov. Robert Ehrlich to call a special session of the legislature to deal with the issue before their premiums are due. Otherwise, he said, they have a plan to continue their protests beyond this week - but he declined to divulge what that plan entails.

"If they call a special session today, it's fair enough to say it will be business as usual next week," Worrell said Tuesday. "If they schedule one for December, we may continue our plan next week. We're spending this week to underscore the situation and convey a sense of urgency."

Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, which insures most of the state's doctors, has raised its premiums more than 60 percent over the past two years. Some physicians have cut back on high-risk procedures - DiMercurio said he no longer performs emergency hand surgery - and some have stopped, or threatened to stop, practicing.

"What is happening temporarily will be permanent if nothing changes," said neurosurgeon Brian Holmes, who brought his practice to Hagerstown after malpractice premiums skyrocketed in Pennsylvania. Until the state acts to stop the hemorrhaging here, he said he and other physicians "are prepared to continue our current status of postponing our elective work."

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