Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich on Tuesday kicked off the work of a task force he created on medical malpractice insurance with an invitation to the healthcare industry, insurers and trial lawyers to work together to solve what he said is a crisis in the state.
But he said that "to the extent any group on the right or left wants to play politics with the crisis . . . there's the door and just go."
The governor asked task force members to come up with recommendations that could be presented at a special session of the legislature later this year or in January when the 2005 session begins.
He told the 16 members present for the first session of the task force that they begin their work "with no predetermined outcome."
"I want you to think outside the box and make this structure better, make a better mousetrap," Ehrlich said.
The governor announced last month during a news conference at Anne Arundel Medical Center that rapid increases in premiums for medical malpractice insurance are driving doctors out of some high-risk specialties, including obstetrics. Hospitals and nursing homes also have been hit with big rate increases.
Ehrlich introduced legislation during the 2004 session that was intended to reduce pressure on insurance rates, but it was killed in House and Senate committees. The House passed its own bill, which incorporated some of the governor's proposals, but that also was killed by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the face of opposition by President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Sen. Brian Frosh, chairman of the committee.
Don Hogan, an Ehrlich aide, told the task force that malpractice rates increased 10% two years ago and 28% last year. The state's primary insurer of doctors has a request pending for a 41% rate hike this year.