Md. Special Session on Med-Mal Called Unlikely

December 8, 2004

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s failure to provide a source of funds needed to underwrite malpractice insurance premiums makes a special session of the legislature unlikely, according to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch agree that the only reason to hold a special session before the regular legislative session begins in January would be to provide immediate relief to doctors whose premium increases of 33 percent or more must be paid by the end of December.

Ehrlich presented a revised version of his medical malpractice insurance bill to legislative leaders Friday, but Miller said the governor still has not suggested a way to raise the money except to take it from the regular state budget.

With the state facing a budget deficit of about $500 million next year, legislative leaders say a new source of revenue is needed to underwrite premium increases and pay doctors more money for treating Medicaid patients.

“There’s no funding source” in the governor’s bill, Miller said after appearing with House Speaker Michael Busch and Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s budget secretary, James “Chip” DiPaula, to discuss prospects for the 2005 General Assembly session at a forum of Washington-area business leaders.

“Without a revenue source, there’s no need for a special session,” Miller said.

Ehrlich said last week he was optimistic that he could work out an agreement with the Senate president and House speaker in time for a special session before the end of the year. The goal would be to create a temporary fund that would, for the next three or four years, limit premium increases by Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society and underwrite losses the insurer might incur as a result of getting less money in premiums.

The fund would be part of a plan to address the problem over the long haul that could include limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, new standards for patient care and new restrictions on Medical Mutual, which insures most doctors in Maryland.

While Miller was pessimistic about a special session, Henry Fawell, Ehrlich’s press spokesman, said the governor still believes “that we can achieve a special session in the next few weeks.”

“We’ve made progress over the past few weeks. The governor does not intend to stop there,” Fawell said.

But Busch agreed with Miller that without a funding source, there is no need for a special session.

House and Senate Democratic leaders want to pay for the plan by removing the exemption from the 2 percent premium insurance tax that the state gives to health maintenance and managed care organizations. Ehrlich opposes requiring HMOs to pay the tax paid by regular insurers.

Busch said the insurance crisis is the most serious problem facing Maryland and threatens the quality of health care as doctors begin to retire early or move their practices to other states with lower insurance costs.

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

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