Maryland Docs Urge Gov. Ehrlich to Sign Med-Mal Bill Despite Its Tort Shortcomings

January 5, 2005

Imploring lawmakers to follow the physician’s oath to “first, do no harm,” a coalition of doctors said that a medical malpractice reform bill passed last week should become law, despite the bill’s shortcomings.

The Save Our Doctors Protect Our Patients Coalition commended Gov. Robert Ehrlich and members of the General Assembly for last week’s special session. But the group said it was disappointed a conference committee “could not sustain the fuller measure of tort reform approved by the House.”

Still, the group described the final bill as “a step in the right direction for both doctors and patients” that “temporarily preserves access to medical care.”

“If comprehensive long-term tort reform measures are not enacted, we believe that we will be dealing with a recurrence or worsening of this crisis in the near future,” the group said in a statement.

The bill that was approved last Thursday morning. Ehrlich has said he will veto the measure, which contains some changes in malpractice law intended to encourage early settlement of malpractice claims. The measure would reduce costs of damages awarded to patients who claim they were harmed by medical mistakes made by health care professionals. It also will slash the 33 percent rate hike for 2005 to 5 percent and provide money to ensure against similar huge increases the next three years.

The governor criticized the bill for not having enough insurance reform measures to have a significant impact on the cost of settling malpractice lawsuits. But it was a tax measure — repealing an exemption for HMOs from the state’s 2 percent insurance premium tax — that ensured that Ehrlich would reject the bill. He said he will veto it some time next week. However, the legislature controlled by Democrats could override the veto.

The coalition said it looks forward to working with Ehrlich and legislators during the upcoming legislative session to “add more meaningful long-term solutions to resolve the tort crisis that still exists.”

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