Maryland medical society turns against Townsend

Mailing notes two issues of financial security

October 31, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

After providing financial help to her campaign, Maryland's influential doctors' association has determined that Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend does not support its top issues and yesterday mailed a scorecard to 10,000 health professionals indicating Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is the preferable candidate.

The mailing by MedChi, the state medical society, says Townsend has refused to commit to maintaining caps on legal awards for pain and suffering, as contained in existing state tort reform law.

It also says that Townsend supports allowing nurse practitioners to serve as primary care providers in health maintenance organizations, a position opposed by MedChi.

The mailing included a bulletin that the cover letter said was "suitable for patient waiting areas," detailing the two candidates' views. "Please share this information with your colleagues, your staff and your patients," the letter said.

Dr. Catherine N. Smoot-Haselnus, the MedChi president, said the organization has never before distributed such a scorecard so close to an election. "I have not seen us take a step of this magnitude," she said.

The association is a potent force in Annapolis, and its political committee has spent $494,231 during the current election cycle.

Townsend's campaign received $6,000, the maximum donation, but the group can also make independent expenditures for candidates.

According to the MedChi Web site, Townsend did not return a five-question candidate form that also asks whether candidates support changing how doctors are disciplined. Maryland has faced criticism for its system of peer review for negligent doctors, and MedChi has fought against changes.

Townsend spokesman Peter Hamm said last night that the issues raised by MedChi were complex and worthy of serious consideration.

"There are strong arguments to be made that if HMO members choose to have a nurse practitioner as a primary care physician, there may be benefits to all concerned," Hamm said. "That should never mean that doctors are not the one to give the best medical advice to HMO members."

Del. Dan K. Morhaim, an emergency physician and MedChi member, said Townsend supports many health issues important to voters, including lower prescription drug prices and better access to health coverage.

Townsend has also received support from trial attorneys, who advocate lifting limits in malpractice cases but has made "no pledge to the trial lawyers to alter the present tort system in Maryland," said Dan Clements, past president of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association.

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