Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

October 23, 2004

Convene session to address crisis in malpractice

The Sun's recent reporting has highlighted the crisis in our medical malpractice system ("6 Md. legislators back malpractice reforms," Oct. 20). Hospitals, physicians, nurses, other health care providers and the business community are seeking short-term and long-term solutions. The Maryland Business Council respectfully urges the governor and the legislature to come together and convene a special session on medical liability reform.

As indicated in a recent statewide survey by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies, Marylanders are certainly aware of the need for malpractice reform. For instance:

Most voters (95 percent) are concerned that the premium increases for physicians will increase their families' cost for health care.

Ninety-three percent of voters (94 percent of Democrats and 92 percent of Republicans) think it is important for the governor and General Assembly to work together to solve the problem.

Eighty-four percent of Maryland voters favor having a special one- or two-day legislative session this fall to solve the problem. This support comes from all demographic groups in Maryland.

The hospital community's insurance premiums are increasing by some $40 million for fiscal 2005, for a total that will approach $150 million.

The crisis is forcing reductions in services and patient access to care in more than 20 percent of hospitals. And 44 percent of hospitals report significant numbers of physicians retiring early, stopping high-risk care or leaving the state.

There is much work for us to do, and the business community stands ready to assist.

Edwin F. Hale Sr. Aaron J. Greenfield Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, the chairman and executive director of the Maryland Business Council.

Malpractice fund is wrong medicine

Why is it that when confronting a problem, government, more times than not, tries to solve it by dipping into the pockets of the taxpayers?

The rising cost of malpractice insurance is a problem that must be addressed ("Deal near on bill for doctors' insurance," Oct. 15). However, doesn't it make sense to address the problem by dealing with its causes?

The stopgap fund to hold down insurance costs is supposedly short-term. But when have we ever seen a short-term or temporary state fund?

What has caused the increase in the cost of malpractice insurance?

Is it the failure of the medical profession to adequately police itself, or is it the glut of lawyers who encourage lawsuits with the adage "You don't pay unless we win"?

Does anyone actually believe there is going to be a mass exodus of doctors from this state?

And if you think that this deal is going to lead to tort reform or any kind of long-term reforms, or that this fund will be temporary rather than an ever-increasing burden on the taxpayers of this state, then I'd like to talk to you about helping me with some of my own financial problems.

But let's finally take a look at real tort reform. And perhaps this might be the beginning of a solution: Put fair limits on jury awards in medical malpractice cases, and begin limiting the amount a lawyer can collect for winning those damages.

The downside to all of this might be the threat of lawyers leaving to practice in other states.

Philip N. Zaczek

Baltimore

Water taxi plan could ease traffic

When I read about the Baltimore Development Corp.'s request for proposals to improve the harbor's water taxi service, I selfishly realized just how easy my commute to my Fells Point office from my home in Riverside could be if this system really worked ("Water taxi upgrade sought," Oct. 18).

I am a huge proponent of mass transit, but after the South Baltimore "shuttle bug" bus debacle that I poured my heart and soul into, I realized that the rest of the city is not. But I feel an improved water taxi system would be perfect.

Those of us who live within walking distance of any stop could leave our cars at home and ride the boat to work. With all the new waterfront commercial development extending outward from downtown to such places as Tide Point, Fells Point, Harbor East, Brewers Hill and Canton Crossing, road travel is becoming less attractive because of the time it takes to go even a short distance.

The pending development of Key Highway will also attract much more traffic once industrial properties are converted to mixed-use development.

So maybe the water taxi will alleviate some of the stress on roads near the harbor. Even better, maybe the harbor will remain more open to the public, and be alive with the energy created by bustling pedestrian traffic generated by the taxi service.

The water taxi plan is the next step in Baltimore growing up as an urban place and kicking the car habit. Besides, how many communities in the United States have the option of commuting by boat?

I desperately want to see this work. I hope our city and state officials do, too. But to make this work, the taxi has to be more appealing than the automobile.

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