ANNAPOLIS – A Senate task force released its proposal for medical liability insurance reform Wednesday, just hours after Maryland doctors and patients demanded legislators work harder to convene a special session of the General Assembly to resolve the issue.
The Senate Special Committee on Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance’s proposal includes patient safety regulations and insurance reforms, such as creating a funding source to help pay for doctors’ rising premiums. A 2 percent HMO tax would pay for that funding pool.
The committee will vote to add, remove and revise components of the proposal Dec. 1.
But a decision on a special session might be made by then because the task force intends to issue its final recommendation the same day Maryland doctors’ insurance payments are due for next year, when premiums rise 33 percent.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, has said a special session must be convened within the next two weeks for the crisis – which has doctors leaving practices and canceling non-emergency surgeries – to be resolved.
“Doing it Dec. 15 to Jan.1 – I don’t see them rolling back the premiums or doctors who got out getting back in,” Busch said Tuesday after meeting with Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate task force, doesn’t think a special legislative session can be held before Dec. 1, according to the Associated Press.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, who attended the Senate task force hearing, said he will discuss the committee’s proposals with Ehrlich and Busch when the three leaders meet Thursday.
Despite ongoing discussions and committee meetings, physicians remain frustrated.
About 75 doctors, their families and patients gathered for a serene rally outside the governor’s mansion and State House Wednesday morning, pleading for a special session and immediate medical malpractice tort reform.
“When are you guys going to get to work?” asked Carol Ritter, a Baltimore County obstetrician. “Didn’t you hear us in January when we said we had a medical liability crisis?”
“I know all the people on the committees are working hard,” said Debbie Redd, CEO of Capital Women’s Care. “But we have to work harder – please.”
The physicians were not only irritated by the lack of legislative movement, but also by what they said is a disregard for the importance of tort reform, such as a cap on pain-and-suffering damages.
“Stop-gap (funding sources) without full effective reform are completely useless,” said John Caruso, a Washington County neurosurgeon. “I’m amazed that people don’t know the impact of this.”
Busch said creating a funding source is a top priority because it solves the problem in the short-run.
But “the doctors are right – you have to have tort reform, as well,” he said.
Busch and Miller support the HMO tax proposal, but Ehrlich has resisted it. The governor and speaker are open to capping pain-and-suffering damages, but Miller has opposed it.
Ehrlich did not attend the rally, but the governor’s spokesman said Ehrlich has consistently been willing to respond to doctors’ pleas.
Miller said he wasn’t aware there was a rally.
Doctors – many dressed in white lab coats – and their patients addressed a crowd that included MedChi Executive Director Michael Preston and Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore County.
Harris, a doctor and a member of the governor’s medical malpractice task force, said he attended the rally to support his colleagues. The senator also sat in on the Senate task force hearing.
Participants stood behind the speakers, holding up paper-sized placards that read, “Save Our Doctors, Protect Our Patients.”
Doctors stressed the need for a special session because of escalating insurance rates due to what they see as numerous “frivolous lawsuits.”
“We all understand that when someone spills coffee on themselves they shouldn’t get $4 million,” Caruso said.
Steven Diehl, a Washington County radiologist, said there are more lawsuits than bad doctors.
“There may be a few (bad doctors) out there,” Diehl said. “We recognize that – but it’s not to that that extent.”