Med-Mal Rates in Maryland Dropping

August 22, 2005

Payouts in medical malpractice awards in Maryland dropped last year after several years of big increases, prompting the state’s largest insurance carrier to keep the rates it charges doctors level in 2006.

The announcement by the Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland was made in a letter to policyholders this month, according to The Washington Post. It comes after an emergency session of the General Assembly and dire warnings from Gov. Robert Ehrlich that doctors would be driven out of the state because of high insurance costs.

Some trial lawyers who saw the legislative action as an attempt to cap damage awards greeted the news with skepticism.

“The truth of the matter is there never was a crisis in medical malpractice in Maryland, and this is the framed exhibit,” said Dennis O’Brien, public relations chairman for the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association.

But one doctor’s organization cautioned against ascribing too much meaning to the figures, saying it is unclear why the malpractice awards have fallen.

“There’s clearly been a change,” said T. Michael Preston, executive director of the Maryland State Medical Society, the doctor’s lobby. “The big questions are, ‘Of what duration?’ and ‘Why?’ — and no one knows.”

Medical Mutual, which insures more than three-quarters of the state’s private practice physicians, raised rates by an average of 28 percent and 33 percent in the preceding two years. In the letter, the insurer said payouts in malpractice cases rose from $47 million in 2000 to $93 million in 2003.

Ehrlich called lawmakers back to Annapolis last year, trying to convince them to pass limits on jury awards. The legislature established a tax on HMOs to help mitigate rising doctor insurance fees. But the Democrat-controlled body rejected Ehrlich’s cap proposal.

Medical Mutual said despite the sharp increase a few years ago, last year’s payouts dropped to $78.5 million. This year’s figures are keeping the same pace, the insurer said. In the letter, D. Ted Lewers, chairman of Medical Mutual’s board, said “some degree of normalcy” was returning to its claims numbers. Lowers said rates would not increase in 2006.

The subsidy program approved by the General Assembly capped doctor’s insurance increases this year to 5 percent, instead of 33 percent. Payments to Medical Mutual policyholders alone totaled $27 million this year.

The program is scheduled to last through 2008. But the Maryland Insurance Administration, which is charged with administering the subsidy, sought legal advice last week on whether the program was legal if companies are not increasing rates.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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