ANNAPOLIS – About 150 legislators and activists denounced Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s medical malpractice proposal in a noisy rally outside the governor’s mansion Thursday, saying his bill lacks patient protections and insurance reforms.
While speakers shared stories of family members who were hurt by what they think is a lack of patient safety regulations, crowd members gathered on Lawyer’s Mall shook bean-filled cans and held signs that read “Hey Bobby, Cap This.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, called Ehrlich’s bill a partisan ploy that lacks measures that would improve patient care and other legislators vowed to block the measure.
“We will not allow what is presently before you to become law,” said Delegate Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore, who said the governor’s plan awards insurance companies and hurts patients.
Lawmakers are under pressure to draft medical malpractice reform legislation before January, when a 33 percent increase in insurance premiums is scheduled to take effect. That increase has doctors closing practices and threatening strikes.
Ehrlich’s bill, unveiled Tuesday, calls for the creation of a fund to help doctors pay for their increasing insurance rates — although it does not identify a source for that fund — and freezes pain-and-suffering awards to patients at the current cap of $650,000.
It includes a provision to fine hospitals that fail to report medical errors to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but many of those at the rally said the punishment needs to be harsher.
The governor’s bill also calls for the implementation of structured settlements, which would let doctors to pay out malpractice claims over a period of time. But Miller, a lawyer, said structured settlements would hurt victims and their families who are struggling to pay medical bills.
He was countered by another trial lawyer, Delegate Robert A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County. In a phone interview later Thursday, Zirkin noted that structured settlements really only hurt lawyers, by preventing them from collecting all of their fee up front.
Ehrlich said when he unveiled his plan this week that some opposition was expected. But while there’s still some work to do, “we’re in the fourth quarter.”
Ehrlich, Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, agree that legislation must be drafted before January, but they disagree on the details. The three are expected to meet again soon to discuss a compromise.
But Miller condemned the governor’s bill Thursday, saying it “puts up hurdles in the way of (victims) recovering to be whole human beings again.”
Besides Miller and Branch, Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, and Delegate Neil F. Quinter, D-Howard, spoke at the rally.
Some citizens shared personal stories, like the woman whose father who used to build model airplanes, but can now no longer swallow since being injured due to medical negligence.
Various state organizations also appeared, including Progressive Maryland, the Maryland State AFL-CIO, the Maryland State Teachers Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The rally was hosted by the Coalition for Patient’s Rights and Safety, “a grassroots advocacy group” for patient well-being in Maryland.
— CNS reporter Joseph Bacchus contributed to this story.
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