Push legislators to act now on docs' malpractice woes

December 16, 2004

Another shutdown of Washington County Hospital's trauma center? It could happen, according to Dr. Karl Riggle, if there is no action on the medical malpractice crisis by Jan. 1.

While elected officials play their political chess game, seeking advantage in the crisis, physicians are planning to act in a way that will reduce the availability of medcial care. Gov. Robert Ehrlich and the Maryland General Assembly's legislative leaders must take action now to prevent that.

The best chance for doing that is a freeze on malpractice insurance premiums due in January.

The state insurance commissioner has the power to freeze the rate increase given to Medical Mutual Inurance Company earlier this year.

That's the word from Assistant Attorney General Kathleen Birrane, who The Washington Post said sent a memo to that effect to Ehrlich aide Donald Hogan on Nov. 26.


Shareese DeLeaver, the governor's spokesperson, told The Associated Press that while the governor shares the doctors' "sense of urgency," Ehrlich is still working with legislative leaders on a solution.

Ehrlich is no doubt wary of a 90-day freeze because that would put him under a deadline to find a solution and possibly prompt legal action by Medical Mutual.

The Herald-Mail continues to believe the best course would be to enact a temporary "stop-loss" fund to offset premium increases while the legislature prepares for a special session in the summer of 2005.

We wish we had faith in the ability of the governor and legislative leaders to solve this problem quickly, as in before Jan. 1.

But the doctors have been talking about the problem since March and the state's political leaders are just getting around to agreeing that something needs to be done. It will take some extraordinary leadership to move the General Assembly and the governor toward even a a temporary solution.

It is up to citizens to take the lead in pushing lawmakers to act. To e-mail them, visit www. for contact information, or call 1-800-492-7122. Postal mail addresses are available in current local phone books.

Please don't wait until doctors shut their doors or limit care. Tell lawmakers to act now.

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