Deal reached on bill to change discipline of doctors

April 01, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger said last night that she has reached an agreement with the state's medical lobby on a bill to change the way doctors in Maryland are licensed and disciplined.

For weeks, the Baltimore County Democrat has been locked in a battle with the Maryland State Medical Society, known as MedChi, over her efforts to make it easier to punish bad doctors. Hollinger and other lawmakers say the standard of proof is too high, which leads to too few disciplinary actions.

Currently, a case against a doctor must be proven through "clear and convincing evidence."

Hollinger, a nurse who is chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, has been pushing to lower that standard to "a preponderance of the evidence," which is essentially 51 percent of the evidence.

Last night, Hollinger said she reached an agreement with MedChi representatives to allow the use of the preponderance-of-evidence measure in two dozen disciplinary circumstances, leaving just one - standard-of-care cases - with "clear and convincing" as the standard of proof. Standard-of-care cases can be some of the most serious, and can often lead to malpractice lawsuits.

"At zero hour, we came up with an agreement," Hollinger said.

The measure needs to be passed by the time the General Assembly adjourns Monday, or Maryland's regulatory body for physicians would cease to exist July 1, under state law.

Hollinger has suggested that the state health secretary could take up the oversight role should a compromise fail.

Joseph Schwartz, MedChi's lobbyist, could not be reached for comment last night, but he has signed off on the provision, according to an e-mail he sent late yesterday to Hollinger's staff.

Hollinger said her committee could take up the bill as soon as today.

Despite compromising on standard-of-care cases, Hollinger insists that she has not given in too much.

"It's not the guts of the bill," she said.

The bill seeks to change more than just the standard of proof in disciplinary cases.

A major complaint of some lawmakers about the Board of Physician Quality Assurance - Maryland's licensing and regulatory panel - was that it is dominated by doctors who might be reluctant to act against their colleagues.

Among many other things, the bill would add more nonphysician members and would distance MedChi from the process of choosing and grading doctors.

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