ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich released details of his medical malpractice bill Tuesday, a day after presenting the legislation to Maryland’s top two legislative leaders.
Ehrlich, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, are facing pressure to resolve problems that have led to physicians closing practices and threatening strikes before doctors’ premium rates rise 33 percent in January.
The three agree a special session of the General Assembly on medical malpractice is imminent, but disagree on the details of new legislation. Each has established task forces to examine the issue.
The governor incorporated many of his task force’s recommendations, including eliminating the annual $15,000 increase on pain-and-suffering awards, thereby freezing the amount victims can receive in these damages at the current level of $650,000.
Ehrlich said further discussions with Miller and Busch will be necessary, but he is confident they can come to a compromise. The three met Oct. 14 about the issue.
Miller was not as confident.
“I am very disappointed,” Miller said. “The bill’s completely different and contrary to the meeting we had last week. The only thing I can think of is that when the governor went to campaign for (President) Bush in Minnesota, Newt Gingrich gave him his playbook.”
Miller opposes a hard cap on pain-and-suffering damages, while Ehrlich and Busch favor the idea.
Busch called Ehrlich’s bill a good starting point, but said it needs revision because it is “heavy on legal reform,” while lacking necessary insurance reform.
“I think it’s good we have a good piece to work off of,” he said. But “we have a long way to go yet.”
Ehrlich said Miller’s and Busch’s reactions were expected.
The governor’s proposal also includes an as-yet unidentified funding source to help pay for doctors’ increasing insurance premiums.
However, Miller is under the impression that money will be taken from the state’s general fund, a provision he said is unacceptable.
“Taking money from the general fund takes money from the education fund,” Miller said. “This is wrong. We’re not going to take money out of the general fund for this project.”
Miller also bristled at his lack of invitation to a meeting Ehrlich and Busch held Monday, before the governor released the bill to the senate president and the speaker.
“The only reason he didn’t want to meet with me yesterday was because he couldn’t meet me face to face,” Miller said. “Because, personally, I think he’s embarrassed by this bill.”
Ehrlich said there was no formal invitation, but Miller was out of town at the time, so the bill was left on the senator’s desk.
Miller was in Prince George’s County Monday, but said he would’ve been happy to talk with Ehrlich and Busch had he been invited.