ANNAPOLIS – Doctors’ insurance payments — which will rise by an average of 33 percent next year — are due Dec. 1, but it appears a special General Assembly session to solve the medical malpractice issue won’t be called before then.
“There’s no indication that this is going to be decided by Dec. 1,” said House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, following an hour-and-a-half meeting with Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Thursday.
Ehrlich, Miller and Busch agree a special session is needed, but disagree on how to solve the crisis that has physicians closing practices and canceling non-emergency surgeries in response to the escalating premiums. Without agreement on legislation to present to the Assembly, a special session is unlikely, the leaders have said.
The three leaders emerged separately — and with different interpretations of the result — from what the governor called a “tense” discussion.
Finding the money to offset premium costs continues to be a point of contention. Miller and Busch support using a 2 percent HMO tax to pay for the costs, but Ehrlich is resisting that proposal.
The governor “declared the HMO tax off the table,” Miller said. It appears money for the funding source will come from the general fund, he added.
But Ehrlich said, “That, in fact, is not the case,” and indicated several funds may be available. He declined to name the sources, “except to say that we do have one, and it’s not the HMO tax.”
Busch said he was confused by Ehrlich’s responses, saying he was also under the impression that money for any state premium payment account would come from the general fund.
“His staff indicated general fund money,” the speaker said. “The governor was adamant that the HMO tax was off the table, but if it’s not that, tell us what it is.”
Miller and Busch last month rejected Ehrlich’s first draft of medical liability reform because it lacked necessary insurance components, including specification of a funding source.
Ehrlich said he will submit a revised version of his legislation next week, when unspecified discussions are planned. He added that he will meet with Miller and Busch Dec. 1, after the Senate medical malpractice task force makes its final recommendation that day.
Miller and Busch said the three leaders will meet again Wednesday.
Michael Preston, MedChi executive director, said he is “discouraged that our leaders are not moving at a faster pace.” He recounted the story of a Maryland doctor who is interviewing for a position in Virginia because it doesn’t look like anything is going to be solved.
Other physicians are waiting to see if Maryland officials can get something done before the end of next month.
Although doctors’ insurance payments are due Dec. 1, they have until the end of December before their policies are canceled. Therefore, Preston said, some doctors are holding off on payments or only paying a quarter of their costs, as they wait to see what happens.
Time is running out, he added, although he said he is hopeful the issue can be resolved early next month.
“If we get past that point,” he said, “we’re probably past the witching hour.”