Time to treat malpractice victims fairly

The Baltimore Sun

Legislation under consideration in the General Assembly would restore equal protection under the law and basic fairness for the victims of medical negligence in Maryland. Sponsored by 11 of the 22 members of the House Judiciary Committee, including the chairman, House Bill 237 has strong support.

Unfortunately, opponents of the bill (including this newspaper) have continued to regurgitate insurance company talking points, reinforcing the fact that the current law protects corporate profits and does little to protect patients.

Here are the facts: Prior to 2005, it made no difference under Maryland law whether a person was injured by a negligent driver, negligent doctor, negligent property owner or defective product. Everyone was treated equally in the eyes of the law.

Insurance companies then decided to raise premiums and pillage the pockets of our state's doctors, which led to hysterical and unsubstantiated fears that doctors were fleeing Maryland. In response, the General Assembly passed legislation in 2004 that determined that the lives of people injured by medical negligence would be worth less than the lives of those injured by other forms of negligence. For example, if a surgeon's negligence on the operating table kills a mother of two, her estate and surviving children would receive less than 50 percent of the compensation permitted by law had the surgeon instead driven over the mother as she crossed the street. The strong support for HB 237 arises from the fact that basic fairness demands that the victims and survivors of negligent conduct be treated the same under law.

HB 237 and its Senate counterpart do nothing more than make sure all people have the same opportunity to get justice. The bill's opponents once again are fear-mongering, raising the tired old specter of fleeing doctors and spiraling malpractice costs. Again, what are the facts?

Independent data from American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges demonstrate that the number of physicians in Maryland has been growing for at least the last 10 years. In fact, Maryland is second in the nation in the number of "active physicians" per 100,000 population.

The fear of spiraling malpractice premium costs is equally unsupported by the evidence. In 2007, the state's largest malpractice carrier had so much excess profit that it announced a $68 million dividend for its insured doctors. Subsequently, the carrier announced an 11 percent dividend to doctors, with an additional 20 percent premium rebate to all physicians renewing a malpractice policy.

The HB 237 debate is over treating patients with respect and ensuring their safety versus protecting the profits of insurance companies.

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