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Cap on awards for malpractice aids consumers

The medical malpractice epidemic continues to inch closer to Maryland, as doctors in New Jersey have joined those in West Virginia and Pennsylvania in walking out in protest of sky-high medical malpractice insurance rates.

In her column "Nation needs a remedy for malpractice mess" (Opinion Commentary, Feb. 3), Mona Charen correctly blames greedy personal injury lawyers and their frivolous lawsuits.

A person harmed as a result of gross negligence or medical malpractice is entitled to financial recourse for lost wages, expenses and pain and suffering. However, in some states, greedy attorneys capitalize on the lack of punitive and noneconomic damages caps for large payouts.

And as insurance carriers consequently raise premiums on doctors, their practices suffer, as does our care.

Currently, Maryland enjoys a cap on noneconomic damage awards, keeping personal injury lawyer payouts from getting out of hand, as well as keeping our doctors where they should be - in the office.

I urge the Assembly to keep that in mind and resist pressure to remove the cap on noneconomic damage awards.

Nancy H. Hill


The writer is executive director of Maryland Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

Tort reform benefits only the insurers

It is terrible that good doctors have to pay high premiums because insurance companies lost money in the stock and bond markets ("High insurance costs forcing doctors' hands," Feb. 5). But two wrongs don't make a right. We can't fix doctors' woes by taking away patients' rights via a federal, one-size-fits-all cap on noneconomic jury verdicts.

Noneconomic verdicts compensate for real losses such as the death of a child, loss of limbs, loss of sight and loss of fertility. Capping jury verdicts could take away compensation for such losses.

Caps and other kinds of tort "reform" only benefit insurers.

Insurance companies already have too much control over our health care system. We shouldn't give them even more by reforming the courts.

Robert K. Jenner


The writer is president of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association.

Patients need access to doctors' records

The medical establishment and insurers are, assuredly, under tremendous pressure from outrageous malpractice awards, and this problem must be addressed by appropriate legislation ("The doctor is not in," editorial, Feb. 6).

However, what is not being discussed is the cloak of secrecy under which the American Medical Association and its members shroud the records, background and malpractice history of physicians.

It is virtually impossible for a patient to obtain good information on a doctor's reputation and qualifications. And, frankly, until an accessible, independent and accountable mechanism is set up to provide such information, I have little sympathy for doctors and their insurance problems.

Good doctors should insist that bad doctors be revealed.

Robert D. Moore


CareFirst conversion bad deal for public

CareFirst was established as a nonprofit entity to make it a community resource. It has been a valuable asset for many years. Changing it into a for-profit corporation would make it no better than all the other HMOs that have plagued the country the past few years ("Lawmakers hear pitch for CareFirst sale," Feb. 7).

Rates would go up and the company would deliver fewer benefits to ever fewer people.

The goal here should be better coverage, for more people, at prices they can afford. It stands to reason that this can better be achieved by a nonprofit company.

Jane Spencer


Curran knows how death penalty works

State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. should be applauded for his honest and courageous statement calling for the abolition of Maryland's death penalty ("Attorney general calls for abolition of Md. death penalty," Jan. 31).

Although Mr. Curran has been morally opposed to capital punishment for years, he is now also convinced that the administration of capital punishment in this state is a broken system - fraught with bias and error and capable of making the ultimate mistake of executing an innocent man.

And Mr. Curran is a man in a position to know: His job provides him a unique vantage point to observe the operation of the death penalty close up and stripped of rhetoric.

Ricardo D. Zwaig

Ellicott City

Omitting downside of local development

Development in Baltimore is always a hot-button issue. So why does The Sun give developers special, biased coverage when reporting on their plans in Baltimore?

As reported, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse is involved with several projects around the Johns Hopkins University area and Clipper Mill ("Mill slated to become a home for artists," Jan. 30, and "Renaissance for Clipper," Jan. 31). But The Sun barely mentions in any detail the concerns that many residents have, especially regarding parking, traffic, community character and woodland destruction.

The Clipper Mill community representatives, for example, have come up with three pages of community requirements.

But reading The Sun one would never know that this project has such serious flaws or that it is still early in the deliberation process.

Myles Hoenig


The writer co-chairs Baltimore's Green Party.

Rescinding tax cut could fill budget gap

Somehow missing from the Maryland budget debate is the simple solution of restoring the ill-advised state income tax rate cut of the 1990s.

Although it would be hardly noticeable in most Maryland households, this step would spread the budget deficit burden equitably and provide substantial revenue without socially undesirable slots or draconian cuts in services.

It's high time for the governor and the General Assembly leaders to acknowledge that Maryland - like most states - made a fiscal mistake by enacting long-term tax rate cuts during a time of short-term revenue increases.

Combining the reversal of this tax cut with restraint in future spending would put Maryland back on sound financial footing.

Kevin Miller


General Assembly is no place for prayer

I find it incomprehensible that the writer of the letter "Critics of prayer betray odd values" (Feb. 2) would not find it insensitive to mention Christ in a prayer before the Maryland General Assembly.

I find it incomprehensible that any type of prayer would be made before a legislative body. Didn't the Founding Fathers emphasize the need to separate church and state?

But unfortunately some Christians harbor a crusade mentality.

Arthur Laupus


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