ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris N. Glendening said Tuesday he supports a bill that would let some Marylanders sue their HMOs for shoddy health care.
“We have to put patients’ rights above corporate profits,” said Glendening, a Democrat.
State Del. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, said the measure would make HMO medical directors liable for the same malpractice as doctors. Supporters say the right to sue is the best way to ensure managed care providers give their patients quality care.
“The system is imploding,” said Joseph Morton, the treasurer of the nonprofit Maryland Patient Advocacy Group. “You can’t turn around without bumping into someone who’s had a bad experience with HMOs.”
But some Republicans, including GOP gubernatorial nominee Ellen Sauerbrey, fear frivolous lawsuits would make health care more unaffordable.
“If this type of system were brought to Maryland, doctors would end up paying huge liability claims, which would drive up the cost of malpractice insurance,” said Carol Hirschburg, a Sauerbrey spokeswoman. “HMOs would pass that onto the consumer. It would put health insurance out of the reach of those who can now afford it.”
Glendening said similar laws enacted in Texas and Missouri have not paralyzed the HMOs there with lawsuits.
Similar measures were introduced in Maryland during the last two General Assembly sessions but wilted in committee under intense lobbying by HMOs. “There were so many lobbyists, it was like someone shot down the beehive,” said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Pikesville, who has supported similar legislation.
In 1998, in a joint vote of the House Judiciary and Economic Matters committees, a similar proposal was tabled, 30-12. A year earlier, delegates in the House Judiciary Committee didn’t bring the bill to a vote.
Del. Leon G. Billings, D-Montgomery, who sponsored the 1997 bill and co-sponsored the 1998 bill with Grosfeld, said Glendening’s endorsement could bolster support in the General Assembly. “We now have a real chance of getting this bill through,” he said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Upper Marlboro, said he supports the measure. He predicted it would pass his committee and “fair well” in the House.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, said legislators would have to compromise.
“On one hand, we don’t want to make liability insurance so high that they have to raise rates,” he said. “But if an HMO makes a mistake, misses a diagnosis, then there should be an opportunity for recovery.” If it passes, the bill would only cover about half of Marylanders enrolled in HMOs, Hollinger said. A federal law exempts “third-party” insurers – usually HMOs that provide health plans for businesses – from lawsuits. -30-