Maryland lawmakers override governor's veto of tort reform

A liability insurance rate stabilization fund and Medicaid pay increases are part of the new law.

By Tanya Albert amednews correspondent — Posted Jan. 31, 2005

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Maryland physicians say medical liability reforms and financial relief adopted in January are a starting point but that there's a lot more work to do.

With organized medicine's backing, the Maryland General Assembly voted to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s veto of a bill that included many of the reforms that the governor originally called for in a special legislative session he convened at the end of 2004.

Ehrlich said he could not support the measure because the final bill included a 2% tax on HMOs to pay for a new Medical Professional Liability Insurance Rate Stabilization fund.

All physicians will be covered under the program, which will cover 95% of the premium increases they face in 2005. Ehrlich also criticized the bill as not containing enough substance to address the long-term medical liability problem.

Lawmakers and doctors disagreed with Ehrlich's decision to try to throw the whole bill out based on those complaints. The new law went immediately into effect after the veto override. Among other things, it:

  • Toughens expert witness rules.
  • Cuts the current cap on noneconomic damages awarded in medical liability cases in half, to $812,500.
  • Creates a law that protects physicians who apologize to patients when there is a bad outcome.
  • Increases Medicaid funding for obstetricians, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons and emergency physicians. For example, obstetricians should see an increase of $800 to $900 for a delivery.

"The bill makes a start on liability reforms and offers important short-term relief to physicians," said T. Michael Preston, executive director of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society.

But, he said, work still needs to be done to create the rate stabilization fund, and the group will press for even stronger reforms during the current legislative session.

Among the changes supported by MedChi, other organized medical societies in Maryland and the Maryland Hospital Assn. are an extension of the Good Samaritan law into emergency departments and changes to the way future damages awarded in medical liability cases are calculated.

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