Poll: Republicans Blame Malpractice Lawsuits for Rising Health Costs; Democrats Blame Insurers

November 2, 2004

Republicans were three times as likely as Democrats to blame rising health costs on malpractice lawsuits, according to a poll conducted for The (Baltimore) Sun, and Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to blame insurance companies and HMOs.

Republicans want to limit jury awards and lawyers’ fees, while Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to support efforts to weed out incompetent doctors.

The poll found that 67 percent of Marylanders believe the malpractice system needs “major change,” while 25 percent support “minor change.” Only 6 percent say it’s fine as it is.

The issue has drawn a lot of attention in Annapolis. Last week, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich offered a proposed remedy that was heavy on limits to jury awards and lawyer fees. The proposal was criticized by Thomas V. Mike Miller, the Democratic president of the state Senate, as anti-victim.

The leaders are struggling to reach consensus on a reform package for a special session in the next month or two.

The poll of 725 Marylanders was conducted during the past week by Ipsos-Public Affairs. It has a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points.

The poll also found higher medical costs affecting Marylanders. Because of rising costs, 21 percent said they sometimes don’t get prescriptions refilled and 23 percent said they are less likely to visit a doctor.

Ehrlich, Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, are searching for at least a rough agreement on a reform package that could be passed in time to block a 33 percent rate increase for doctors due to take effect Jan. 1.

Most Maryland doctors were hit by a 28 percent increase in malpractice premiums this year. Several reform measures died in this year’s legislative session.

There is disagreement on what reforms would work best. But the consensus for action appears solid among lawmakers and the public.

“There has been an increasing consensus in the last couple of weeks among legislators, doctors and others that there is a problem, and that it could impact access to care,” said Nancy Fiedler, senior vice president of the Maryland Hospital Association, which is pressing for reforms in the court system.

Although the questions are framed somewhat differently, the results of the poll for The Sun are consistent with national findings, said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and management at Harvard University.

Blendon and the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted polling last year in which 68 percent of respondents (who could give more than one answer) said drug company profits were very important in pushing up health costs. Malpractice costs ranked second among things perceived as driving increases, with 60 percent listing them as very important.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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