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It's time for a compromise on Maryland malpractice reforms

December 30, 2004

As of Tuesday afternoon, the prospects for medical malpractice reform in Maryland became a bit bleaker, when it was revealed that none of the three major players agrees on how to proceed.

As long as the state's leaders are focused on enacting their own version of a perfect bill instead of a compromise all can live with, it will be difficult to achieve progress.

A quick summary of the bills and their proponents includes:

· Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who has offered tort reform, but not the 2 percent tax increase on health-maintenance organizations sought to offset doctors' premiums and increase reimbursement for treating Medicaid patients.

· Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who has offered the tax increase, but not all of the restrictions on lawsuits sought by the governor.

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· House Speaker Michael Busch, who also wants the tax increase, but who is also including some of the tort-reform items the governor wants.

On any major issue that is legislated, more elected officials want to get it right. The best way to do that is to hold hearings, look at what other states have done, then borrow the best and forget the rest.

Can that be done in the current special session? Perhaps, if lawmakers can agree on a package that includes the HMO tax increase, then find a majority of lawmakers who will pass it over the governor's veto.

Is that likely? No, because Busch and Miller differ on how much legal reform is enough. Just as the differences between the two have stalled action on slot machines, they are likely to put the brakes on progress on the malpractice issue.

Our proposed solution, as previously stated, is as follows: Enact the premium tax on HMOs, with the proviso that it would expire when a comprehensive malpractice reform package is enacted.

That would give the HMOs an incentive to be involved in the debate and to help with the research.

Once money is available to subsidize doctors' malpractice insurance premiums, the General Assembly can hold a special session in the summer of 2005 to pass the comprehensive package.

We would love to believe that lawmakers can craft a comprehensive bill before the regular session starts in January. We don't believe it will happen, but if it does, we promise in advance to apologize to any and all who make it happen.

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