Senate President Vows Tort Reform; Addresses Worried Physicians

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Senate President Vows Tort Reform; Addresses Worried Physicians


Byline: Robert Redding Jr., THE WASHINGTON TIMES

HAGERSTOWN, Md. - State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. yesterday told a group of doctors that lawmakers will resolve Maryland's looming medical malpractice insurance crisis.

"We promise to work hard, and I think in the end the hospitals, the nursing homes and the physicians are going to say, 'Thank you for a job well done,'" Mr. Miller said during a luncheon for the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce. "I am confident that we can do it. We have to do it, we must do it, and we will do it."

Mr. Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat and trial lawyer who has opposed limiting medical malpractice lawsuits, spoke to more than 100 business leaders, many of them doctors.

Physicians at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown refused to perform nonemergency procedures for one week last month to protest a 33 percent increase in malpractice insurance premiums.

Doctors across Maryland have said the higher insurance premiums could force them out of business or out of the state. The first installments on the higher premiums are due today, but the leader of a doctors group said many physicians would decline to pay.

"There are quite a few physicians on the medical staff at Washington County, and I have heard from other medical staffs across the state that are planning on not paying their premiums," said Dr. Karl P. Riggle, a general surgeon at Washington County Hospital.

Dr. Riggle also heads Save Our Doctors, Protect Our Patients, a statewide coalition of physicians demanding medical malpractice reform, including limits on jury awards and attorney fees.

Calling today a "day of reckoning," Dr. Riggle said he did not know how many members of his group would withhold their first payments to protest the higher rates.

Save Our Doctors, which greeted Mr. Miller with picket signs at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, has suggested a five-point plan that includes a tort-reform package modeled after California regulations and stronger "good Samaritan" protections for doctors.

The plan includes:

*More competition for insurance providers.

*Creation of "health care courts" similar to those in Indiana that block frivolous lawsuits.

*Rules requiring that expert witnesses have the same specialty as the doctors on trial.

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