Four Washington County, Md., doctors have agreed to delay indefinitely their plan to halt nonemergency surgery to protest a 33% increase in medical malpractice insurance premiums.
After a meeting with Gov. Robert Ehrlich on Monday, the doctors said they would ask other doctors at the Washington County Hospital Association to follow their lead in order to give the governor and General Assembly leaders time to seek a legislative solution to the rapid increase in premiums they say has produced a healthcare crisis in Maryland.
"The governor has asked us to stay at work. We have heard him," said Dino Delaportas, M.D., chief of staff at the hospital.
The halt to nonemergency surgery for two weeks was scheduled to begin Nov. 15, affecting procedures such as hernia repair, breast biopsies and colonoscopies. Karl Riggle, M.D., chief of surgery, said he thought other doctors on the hospital staff would agree to delay the limitation on surgery.
Ehrlich and legislative leaders have been considering calling a special session of the General Assembly to deal with the insurance problem, but have not been able to reach agreement on a solution.
Ehrlich and House Speaker Michael Busch want a long-term fix that would hold down the cost of settling malpractice claims in court. Senate President Thomas ?Mike? Miller opposes caps on malpractice payments and other proposals to limit patients' ability to collect damages and is drafting legislation to deal with the short-term problem. He favors creating a fund to cover part of the cost of malpractice claims if insurers will agree to freeze premiums.
Miller's plan was vehemently opposed by the doctors at the meeting with Ehrlich, who said putting more money into the system would just encourage more lawsuits.
Delaportas said Miller's proposal "is simply paying for the problem. It's not solving it."
Busch said the legislature needs to do something to reduce the cost of malpractice insurance while giving patients who are victims of medical errors "recourse through the judicial system."
"It shouldn't be about doctors. It shouldn't be about lawyers. It should be about patients," he said.