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Health professionals continue fight for malpractice reform

April 27, 2005|BY TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN

Although attempts to get major reform for Maryland's medical malpractice laws failed during this year's General Assembly, the physicians' group spearheading the effort isn't quite ready to give up on reforms just yet.

Efforts to revive the fight for reform begin this week as Save Our Doctors, Protect Our Patients, formed last year by a group of Washington County doctors, joins forces with the Maryland business community for an end-of-session luncheon at which Gov. Robert Ehrlich will be the featured speaker.

The group's co-sponsorship of Maryland Business for Responsive Government's luncheon Thursday in Baltimore is part of a plan.

"Our basic plan is to engage business" in the fight for reform, said Hagerstown surgeon and group president Karl Riggle. Citing the more than $800 million spent last year on "defensive" medicine - extra tests and procedures aimed at avoiding malpractice claims - Riggle said the group also wants to "engage more of the medical staff across the state" in its efforts.

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The doctors already are looking toward next year's General Assembly.

"We plan to stay very much involved ... and we'll push to see more bills introduced," Riggle said.

The Maryland Patients' Access to Quality Health Care Act of 2004 created a stop-loss fund to stabilize malpractice liability insurance rates for medical professionals, paid for with revenue from a 2 percent premium tax on health management organizations, which for years have enjoyed a tax exemption.

The act also added reporting requirements for malpractice insurers, including claims experiences, the amount of money paid out in malpractice awards and settlements, and on the amount of money kept in reserves. It also singled out the state's largest malpractice insurer, increasing the information Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland must report to the state's insurance commissioner.

But many of the reforms the physicians were looking for, such as "Good Samaritan" immunity for medical personnel working in emergency situations and structured payment schedules for malpractice settlements and awards, failed to win approval during this year's legislative session.

Riggle said he'd heard that another malpractice insurer, GE Medical Protective, based in Fort Wayne, Ind., already was seeking another rate increase. Company spokesman John Novaria confirmed Tuesday the company had applied for a 30.1 percent rate increase, to be effective Aug. 1.

While votes on malpractice issues frequently split the General Assembly nearly along party lines, Riggle said his group was particularly disappointed that one bill approved by the full House failed to get a Senate vote. That bill held that apologies or expressions of regret from medical personnel could not be used as evidence of liability in malpractice suits.

"Why is it that the Senate could take a bill passed unanimously by the House and not even vote on it?" Riggle said.

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