ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s top three politicians emerged from a closed-door meeting Thursday optimistic they can resolve the medical malpractice issue before the General Assembly convenes in January.
Following the 45-minute morning gathering at Government House, Gov. Robert Ehrlich said “a bill is being drafted as we speak” to present within the next week to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
Miller and Busch will examine the bill when it’s finished, then meet again with Ehrlich, the governor said.
Ehrlich is facing pressure to resolve the problems that have led to physicians closing practices and threatening strikes before their premium rates rise 33 percent in January.
Maryland officials and lobbyists agree that a special session on medical malpractice is imminent, but say in order to save time and money, a bill must be in place before convening the Legislature.
Ehrlich was hopeful an agreement would be reached in a special session before Dec. 1. He said the bill would include immediate relief, but would also contain long-term solutions.
“This is an opportunity to get it done in the short term and the long term,” he said. But “the last thing we need to do is pass a bill that pays for the problem but does not fix the problem.”
Ehrlich said the short- and long-term objectives include reforming the Maryland malpractice law and resolving the issue of increasing premiums by establishing a state fund to help pay for the costs.
Creating a short-term funding source is not his preferred option, he said, “but it is the option that does achieve short-term relief.” He said the sources of the money have not been determined, but none have been ruled out, either.
Although he agreed that a long-term solution must be sought, Miller said creating a fund to stop the premium increase is the top concern.
“We need to eliminate any rate increase whatsoever,” he said. “A 33 percent increase – that’s certainly too much . . . for any physician to have to pay,” he said.
Busch agreed that one of the objectives is to establish a “funding source allotted by the state to offset those increases.”
“If we’re going to have a special session we need to address the immediate increase in premiums,” he said.
Miller said the money should not come from the general state fund, but rather from a pool established specifically for malpractice.
Despite the progress, Ehrlich, Miller and Busch continue to disagree on the specifics of a new bill, but each has established committees to examine their ideas. Ehrlich and Miller’s task forces have met regularly for several months, while Busch reconvened his task force last Monday, after months of inactivity.
Ehrlich said bill specifics will stem from the recommendations of the task forces and his discussions with Miller and Busch.
Miller said he understands the bill will not be unanimously backed in the House and Senate, but is confident that a majority of the members will support it.
“The idea is to bring the ideas of all three groups together and have a bill we agree upon,” he said.
Capital News Service reporter Joseph Bacchus contributed to this story.