ANNAPOLIS – The state’s largest medical malpractice insurer Wednesday justified its 33 percent increase in rates it charges doctors, saying claims costs are mounting.
“We’re not seeing more claims, but we’re paying more on the claims we do see,” said David L. Murray, president and chief executive officer of Medical Mutual.
Murray spoke to the Senate Special Commission on Medical Malpractice, which is trying to find a solution to the state’s medical malpractice insurance crisis that has doctors closing their doors and threatening strikes.
The commission’s meeting came just days after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, denounced a proposed medical malpractice bill drafted by Gov. Robert Ehrlich. Miller criticized the bill as partisan legislation that fails to get to the heart of the issue.
The task force listened to testimony from lawyers and insurance representatives.
Ehrlich, Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, agree new legislation must be drafted. Ehrlich and Busch have generally been allies on the issue, although Busch said the governor’s bill requires changes.
Despite their differences, all three leaders agree short- and long-term solutions must be sought, including finding an immediate answer to doctors’ rising malpractice insurance costs.
They also agree a funding source must be established to help pay for increasing premiums. The governor’s bill includes an as-yet unidentified pool of funds.
The Senate task force has been unable to establish a concrete proposal for funding so far.
“We are scratching our heads trying to find some money,” said Thomas M. Middleton, D-District 28, a committee member.
Miller has said it appears the governor’s bill takes money from the state’s general fund, something he said is “wrong.”
The task force also addressed the governor’s proposal to increase the number of jurors in medical malpractice cases from six to 12 — an innocuous proposal said Neil Vidmar, a professor of law and psychology at Duke University.
“I don’t see any particular harm,” Vidmar said. “I think more is better, but I don’t think it matters either way, except for making estimates on solid damages – there’s more heads in making this decision.”
The committee has met for months and hopes to submit recommendations to Miller before the General Assembly convenes for its regular session in January.
Miller could meet with Busch and Ehrlich as early as Friday to try to come to an agreement on the issue.