Nader proposes malpractice reforms

Rates can be controlled without limiting awards, presidential hopeful says

October 20, 2004|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader brought his campaign to Maryland yesterday and offered his prescription to stem spiraling medical malpractice insurance costs.

Nader made his second trip to Annapolis in two months to talk about medical malpractice - an issue that is prompting state leaders to plan a special legislative session - in the final weeks of what he described as a state-by-state campaign that will focus on local policy concerns.

During a lunchtime visit to an Annapolis inn notable for its absence of the usual presidential campaign fanfare, Nader called on the state government to rein in insurance rates without capping jury awards. He faulted Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for proposing to limit damages in malpractice cases and said the state licensing board should act more aggressively to discipline incompetent physicians.

By Nader's estimates, based on Maryland's population and a Harvard study that attributed 80,000 deaths annually to medical malpractice, about 1,300 Marylanders die each year because of improper medical treatment.

"The first obligation of the governor is to do everything in his power to weed out the incompetent doctors and bad hospital practices that are destroying the lives of at least 1,300 Marylanders and injuring thousands more," Nader said. "It's the most preventable form of violence in Maryland today."

Ehrlich and legislative leaders agreed last week to compromise on their contrasting ideas for reform in an attempt to take action before a 33 percent increase in insurance premiums goes into effect Jan. 1.

Ehrlich's deputy legislative officer, Donald J. Hogan Jr., agreed that "public safety is paramount" but said costs must be brought under control.

"If Mr. Nader thinks people are being injured right now, just wait until he sees what happens when people who are in dire need of health care can't find it because the doctors are quitting," Hogan said.

Nader touched on a number of his favorite campaign themes: his plans to change the nation's entrenched two-party system, to bring back U.S. troops from Iraq within six months and to raise the minimum wage for 47 million Americans who earn less than $10 an hour.

He also challenged the notion that his candidacy is costing Democrat John Kerry votes. Nader pointed to a new Gallup poll that found many of his supporters would choose President Bush if Nader weren't on the ballot. The poll had him getting 1 percent of the likely vote.

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