Malpractice stilll debate of the day

February 04, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - It ain't over 'til it's over.

Three weeks after the Maryland General Assembly overrode Gov. Robert Ehrlich's veto of a medical malpractice reform bill, 14 more malpractice bills already have been filed in the House of Delegates, and two have been filed in the Senate.

And more are planned.

Of the House bills, fully half have been co-sponsored by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

These bills would:

· Provide "Good Samaritan" protection from civil liability for health-care workers providing care under certain emergency circumstances

· Prohibit an apology or expression of regret by a health care worker in certain circumstances from being used as evidence of an admission of liability


· Restrict the division of lawyers' fees in malpractice cases

· Require malpractice awards to be itemized

· Require a certificate of qualification for expert witnesses

· Establish a task force on compensation for certain birth-related injuries

· Require structured payments of damages under specified circumstances.

Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, also is co-sponsoring the bill that requires itemization of awards, and Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, and Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, are co-sponsoring the bill for qualifying expert witnesses.

Donoghue said Thursday he is co-sponsoring additional bills with House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, and Shank said he's working with local physicians on more bills. "I've got four on my desk right now," he said.

Passage of the Maryland Patients' Access to Quality Health Care Act of 2004 despite Ehrlich's veto widened a rift between Republicans and Democrats who had different ideas about how the state should deal with soaring malpractice insurance premiums being charged to physicians.

The bill created a stop-gap fund that would temporarily subsidize insurance premiums. To pay for it, Democrats pushed through a 2 percent tax on health management organization premiums.

Within a week, Republicans, who complained the bill was long on taxes and short on reform, announced plans to file legislation to repeal the tax. Shank said he planned his own tax repeal bill.

Shank said the number of malpractice bills being filed "reflects the utter complete failure" of the law passed to really solve the malpractice crisis. He predicted that Democrats would introduce their own corrective bill to try to fix "the monster they've created."

Donoghue, the only Washington County lawmaker to vote for the law, conceded from the start that more reforms were needed. "But as you've heard me say before, if we hadn't done what we did, we wouldn't be anywhere."

He said he believed people would begin to see that there was real reform in the bill passed, but that he would continue to press for more.

"I promised everyone I would work my hardest on this issue," he said.

Shank said getting more reforms passed this year would be an uphill battle, because some lawmakers "are saying tort reform has been done."

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