ANNAPOLIS – Saying the medical malpractice bill reinstated Tuesday by the Maryland General Assembly won’t permanently fix the state’s health care system, Gov. Robert Ehrlich will introduce a new health reform bill during the annual legislative session that began Wednesday.
Shareese DeLeaver, Ehrlich’s spokeswoman, called Tuesday’s reinstatement of the bill “a lost opportunity for the Legislature to enact both short- and long-term legislation.”
Ehrlich vetoed the bill, crafted in a special session last month, saying it didn’t provide enough tort reform and created a new tax he opposed.
Legislators agreed that they still have a lot of work to do during the 90-day session to counter the state’s health care problems. Even those who voted for the new malpractice bill, which eked a supermajority out of both chambers, admitted it is not ideal.
The bill will cap increases on malpractice insurance costs for doctors at 5 percent, using a fund from a new 2 percent HMO tax.
In addition, the bill lowers caps on pain-and-suffering damages, requires new certification for expert witnesses at trials and provides an alternate dispute resolution method.
Ehrlich’s fellow Republicans agree the new bill needs significant changes.
House Deputy Minority Whip Michael D. Smigiel, R-Cecil, suggested an audit of the amount in the reserve fund created by the bill to handle insurance claims.
Besides creating a new tax, Smigiel said, the bill only “gives the appearance of having done something . . . It’s really doing nothing.”
Delegate Nathaniel T. Oaks, D-Baltimore, who voted to reinstate the bill, said he was “not necessarily” happy with it. He voted for it, he said, because it was the best plan the General Assembly could devise during the one-week special session Ehrlich called in December.
“There are a lot of flaws in the legislation,” Oaks said. But “we had to salvage something . . . I think what we did was a temporary solution. I don’t think it was a long-term solution.”
Delegate Darryl A. Kelley, D-Prince George’s, understood charges by Republicans that the bill is not comprehensive enough to fix the health care system. Because the bill should keep many more doctors practicing in the state, though, he believes it is an acceptable solution to Maryland’s health care crisis.
“I think it will help the citizens of the state receive more health care,” Kelley said. “I think we did the best we could in the short time we had. It’s unfortunate that the governor didn’t come along on this issue.”
With three months to work on malpractice issues instead of just one week, though, Kelley expects to see numerous reform attempts.
“I don’t know if they’ll be successful,” he said. But “throughout the session we’ll have more time to study some of the other issues.”
– 30 – CNS-1-12-05