REMEMBER ALL that uproar over the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance? The special session of the Maryland General Assembly four months ago? The emergency bill? The tax on HMO premiums to underwrite malpractice insurance costs? The veto and the veto override? Seems like ancient history now. But here's the peculiar thing: The doctors who were desperate for financial relief from those hefty malpractice insurance bills have gotten no help whatsoever from their insurers or the state. And they've been told not to expect any assistance until July 1 at the earliest.
In other words, the check is most definitely not in the mail, docs.
This is, in a word, unacceptable. Insurance Commission Alfred W. Redmer Jr. needs to step up and find a way to correct this embarrassment immediately. It was bad enough that payments weren't made available shortly after the legislation passed in January. But that hastily approved bill required some clarifications and corrections. The General Assembly did that -- with input from Mr. Redmer -- in March. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. allowed the bill to become law shortly after that. But now it's May and still nothing.
Why? Mr. Redmer claims he does not have the authority to release the money before July 1. That's news to the legislators who wrote and approved the bill. Certainly, no one raised this interpretation when the proposal was being discussed months ago. Had they, lawmakers note, the law could have been specifically amended to speed up the timetable.
But what about the Medical Mutual Liability Society of Maryland? Why doesn't the state's largest malpractice insurer lower its rates in the next scheduled quarterly billing (to be mailed next week, incidentally)? After all, Mr. Redmer says it and other insurers have the authority to do so -- and be reimbursed by the state after July 1. But officials at Medical Mutual say that wouldn't be fiscally responsible -- and they claim Mr. Redmer and Mr. Ehrlich ought to release the money in advance of July 1 instead.
Maryland doctors should be furious about this. Consumers, too. The Ehrlich administration went to considerable lengths to make sure HMOs could pass along the 2 percent tax on premiums to their customers as quickly as possible, notifying them of the opportunity before the tax even became law. But when consumers are the ones to benefit and not big insurance companies? Well, the wheels seem to turn with a little less urgency, don't they? If the administration put as much energy into helping doctors as it did into politicking on the malpractice issue there's little doubt the matter would have been resolved weeks ago.