Miller denounces Ehrlich bill on malpractice rates

Senate president threatens to counter it with own plan

`It's a draft,' governor's aide says

October 29, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday that he will craft his own plan to hold down medical malpractice insurance rates if the governor doesn't draft a more "moderate" bill.

Miller, speaking in Annapolis at a rally of malpractice victims, labor leaders and liberal activists, decried Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s plan to limit rate increases as favoring big business over the rights of victims.

He said afterward that this weekend he will review the findings of a Senate task force that studied the issue. Miller said he is still waiting for Ehrlich to change his plan but is willing to work with House Speaker Michael E. Busch to craft a solution without the governor's help.

"I would expect that if the governor's right-wing colleagues don't allow him to come forward with a moderate bill, the speaker and myself, working together, will try to get a bill Democrats can agree on," Miller said.

Ehrlich's plan, which he sent to Miller and Busch on Monday night, seeks to hold down future premiums through stricter standards for proving malpractice and tighter caps on jury awards to victims. His plan also calls for establishment of a fund to stave off immediate rate increases.

Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, which covers about three-quarters of the state's doctors in private practice, is set to raise its rates an average of 33 percent Jan. 1.

Doctors around the state, particularly in high-risk specialties such as obstetrics and neurology, have said they will have to consider retiring or moving to another state because of the cost of malpractice insurance.

Miller, Busch and Ehrlich met two weeks ago and agreed to the framework for a plan to alleviate the problem, but the Senate president said the governor's bill doesn't live up to the agreement.

Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni said the bill is a starting point for negotiations. The governor plans to call the speaker and president together to come to an agreement, Massoni said.

"As to the comments and behavior of Senator Miller, we'll trust that he'll calm himself down and act like the president of the Senate and we'll meet and discuss things," Massoni said. "The governor has made very clear, it's a draft. That's why it says `draft' twice on every page."

More than 150 demonstrators, waving signs reading "Cap greedy insurance companies, not my rights," "Bad doctors need to go" and "Hey Bobby, cap this," protested Ehrlich's bill outside the State House yesterday.

One of them, Charles Rankin of Mount Airy, said his daughter, Sarah, suffered irreparable neurological damage when doctors failed to care for her properly after a car crash seven years ago. He successfully sued for malpractice, but the jury award for pain and suffering was cut by 75 percent by the caps in place, he said.

"We're not looking to get rich. I don't think any of us are," Rankin said. "But we want to make life a little more comfortable, make life a little more like it would have been if this hadn't happened."

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