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Striking '20 percent' rule would raise malpractice costs

Dr. Ata Atogho knew the baby he was delivering was in trouble, but did not perform an emergency caesarian section. Despite a federal lawsuit, he is free to deliver babies at other hospitals.

I write in response to the recent editorial on the rule requiring experts in medical malpractice cases to be practitioners and not professional expert witnesses — the “20 percent rule” (“The ‘20 percent rule’ — an arbitrary standard in malpractice suits,” April 2). Your editorial compares experts in medical malpractice cases to experts used in other professional fields like civil engineers.

In the 1980s and again in 2004, Maryland had a crisis when med mal premiums soared and patients faced a provider shortage. The state has had no such issues with engineers, auditors or otherwise. These crises led the General Assembly to implement safeguards against frivolous med mal claims, including having a practicing professional open the courthouse door for plaintiffs, rather than a professional expert whose income is derived solely from court cases. The pending bill would change that, and the costs of more med mal cases would again raise premiums for physicians and hospitals as it has before. This, while every other resource in the state is being used to do the opposite and restrain runaway costs.

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Indeed, even the independent Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission expressed concerns over this legislation and its effect on their efforts to control hospital costs under the state’s All-Payer Model. The All-Payer contract gives the federal government the power to end the arrangement if certain factors occur. Do we really want to risk the $2 billion a year that the model means to Maryland so that lawyers can file more malpractice actions?

Med Chi supports holding bad doctors accountable, too, but not when juries are allowed to rely on “experts” who haven’t seen a patient in the recent past.

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Gene M. Ransom III, Baltimore

The writer is CEO of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society.

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