ANNAPOLIS – A Senate committee Friday killed a medical malpractice bill proposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich that would have altered how monetary damages are awarded and reduced the state’s cap on pain and suffering damages.
Senators on the Judicial Proceedings Committee said the governor’s bill just didn’t get at the root of problems causing unusually high medical malpractice insurance hikes across the state.
Still, some committee members were reluctant to vote unfavorably, fearful that killing the bill would send a negative message to lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee, which is working to amend the bill.
“A dead bill here is a dead bill there,” said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford, who once worked with House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s. “Having served over there, I think they’ll quit working on it, and we will have nothing.”
Based on this argument, Republicans favoring the bill were only able to delay the vote two days before the committee handed down its 8-4 defeat of the bill.
The hold gave the governor time to meet with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, to seek assurance that the Senate would look afresh at the matter, if the House made significant changes.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Ehrlich’s spokesman Henry P. Fawell, regarding the bill’s death. “We have a malpractice crisis in Maryland, we have doctors leaving the state in droves for other states or retiring altogether.”
The bill, one of many this session addressing the medical malpractice insurance issue, would have capped non-economic damages at $500,000 and allowed larger awards to be made through annuities, rather than lump sums. It also would have allowed a doctor, involved in a lawsuit, to offer a judgment to a patient, however, if the patient refused and ended up winning less in court, the patient would have to pay all court costs.
The bill also altered the formula for economic damages, by considering taxes on future earnings estimates, basing medical costs on state averages and Medicare rates, and eliminating costs for certain federally provided services.
Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, was disappointed the committee let an administration bill die, saying the panel didn’t like the bill from the start and made no effort to fix it.
Still, the committee had strong support for getting rid of the bill.
“The message has to go out to everyone that this is not the silver bullet,” said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery.
“This bill does not solve the problems,” said Forehand, adding that passing the bill would be irresponsible.
“I think it’s going to be very hard to do something this year,” said Judicial Proceedings Chairman Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery. He noted the situation developed in May, and it was still difficult to tell if it was a crisis or the throws of a market cycle.
“State legislatures don’t adapt well to sudden crisis,” said Frosh, who projected a solution could take several years of effort. “It works best when it’s a deliberative process.”
– 30 – CNS-3-19-04