ANNAPOLIS – The House Democratic caucus Tuesday prepared for a special legislative session on medical malpractice insurance just in case Gov. Robert Ehrlich isn’t.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, circulated a petition at a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic caucus Tuesday that could force Ehrlich to call a special session.
By law, only the governor has the power to call a special session, but he is required to convene the General Assembly if a majority of the members of both chambers petition to do so and agree on a date.
Busch said he hopes it won’t come to that.
“A special session called by the Senate President and the House is really a last solution,” Busch said. “Ideally the governor would bring this issue to fruition.”
The “vast majority” of the 60 or 70 delegates who attended the meeting signed the petition, Busch said. The petition did not include a date, but Busch told House members they should prepare to return to Annapolis at the end of November or the beginning of December.
“If there isn’t a special session report by Dec. 1, the issue isn’t resolved and it becomes an even more serious issue in (regular) session,” Busch said. The General Assembly is scheduled to convene its regular session on Jan. 12.
Ehrlich, Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, are facing pressure to resolve the medical malpractice crisis before Medical Mutual – which covers the majority of Maryland doctors – increases doctors’ premiums by 33 percent.
Doctors insured by Medical Mutual received their 2005 insurance bills earlier this month, and payment is due by Dec. 1. If they do not pay by that time, Medical Mutual will send them a cancellation fee that gives them until the end of the month to pay their insurance costs.
Neither Miller nor Ehrlich could be reached for comment after the meeting ended around 7 p.m.
Plans for such a special session have been in jeopardy since Busch and Miller rejected a draft proposal from Ehrlich two weeks ago.
The governor’s bill includes an as-yet unidentified funding source to help pay for doctors’ increasing insurance premiums. Miller has said he was under the impression that money would be taken from the state’s general fund, a provision he said is unacceptable. However, there has since been progress toward a compromise, he said.
“We’ve got (Ehrlich) off the general fund, but we haven’t gotten him over to the HMO (fund),” Miller said in an interview before Tuesday’s meeting of the delegates.
Miller and Busch agree that money for the funding source should come from removal of the 2 percent tax exemption enjoyed by HMOs, but Ehrlich has been resistant to this proposal.
The three leaders hope to meet later this week to discuss the issue, Miller said.
MedChi Executive Director Michael Preston, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, said he hopes a special session will be called by Dec. 1 and agreed that a funding source, called a stop-loss fund, is a viable resolution to the medical malpractice crisis.
“I think the stop-loss idea . . . is a creative approach that could have an impact,” Preston said. “We got to believe that because the three leaders are all saying ‘We need to solve this problem,’ that they can come together.”