Malpractice reform seen as a necessity

Kelsey Volkmann, The Examiner

BALTIMORE – Doctors are leaving Maryland because of skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance costs, but the General Assembly might not tackle reform until 2008, when a temporary fix expires, observers and lawmakers say.

Hospital medical directors say “they are spending an increasing amount of time on recruiting and retaining physicians,” said Pegeen Townsend, Maryland Hospital Association’s senior vice president for legislative policy.

Carroll Hospital Center officials recently asked Carroll’s state legislators to explore solutions for Maryland doctors’ comparatively expensive medical liability insurance and the relatively low reimbursements insurers pay doctors.

Each state determines the amount insurance companies reimburse doctors for certain procedures; for example, in Maryland, doctors could be paid less for the angioplasty they could perform in another state for more money, said Tricia Supik, Carroll Hospital Center’s legislative officer.

The “double whammy” of low reimbursements combined with spiraling insurance premiums keep doctors away, Supik said.

Maryland ranks in the lowest 25th percentile in the nation for reimbursements, Townsend said.

The Maryland Hospital Association, she said, is gathering data to quantify to what extent doctors are leaving.

Despite what some describe as a crisis, medical liability reform most likely will be a low priority for lawmakers in 2007, but they will be forced to address it in 2008, when premium subsidies passed in 2004 are set to expire, said Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 9B.

Last year, Dr. Donovan Dietrick, an obstetrician and gynecologist, closed his 20-year private practice because his insurance bill exceeded $100,000.

“People are giving up obstetrics when many in other fields are just reaching the peak of their professional expertise,” said Dietrick, who now teaches OB-GYN residents at Franklin Square Hospital Center in Baltimore County.

Dietreck said he backs Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley’s plan for medical courts that would adjudicate medical injuries with the aim of eliminating large rewards for a few plaintiffs in favor of fairer compensations.

“With a legislature controlled by malpractice lawyers, it’s hard to get a dialogue going,” said Dr. Robert Wack, a Carroll Hospital Center pediatrician.

Only two doctors serve in the state legislature: Sen. Andrew Harris, a Republican, and Del. Dan Morhaim, a Democrat, both Baltimore County leaders.

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