Med Mal “Crisis” Over-Hyped in Maryland?

SLUG: me/omalley DATE: September 19, 2007 NEG#: 194229 CREDIT: Ricky Carioti / TWP. LOCATION: Home of Sarah Achenbach in Towson, Md. EDITOR: remote SUMMARY: Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley holds a press conference at Sarah Achenbach's home in the Anneslie neighborhood of Towson, to explain his his revenue package and announce a plan to reform Maryland's income tax structure. CAPTION: Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley attends a Kitchen Table Talk at the home of Sarah Achenbach in the Anneslie neighborhood of Towson with some of Sarah's neighbors. The talk was part of a press conference where the governor announced a plan to reform the Maryland income tax structure. StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Wed Sep 19 16:05:28 2007
Back in 2003, when the Texas Legislature bent over for the insurance lobby and capped damages on suits brought by victims of medical negligence, the justification for selling off our rights was typically some variant of a “crisis” facing doctors…too many “frivolous suits,” too many “runaway juries,” too high insurance premiums, too many doctors fleeing the state, etc., etc.

One of the solutions proposed by consumer groups back then was, sensibly, insurancereform. That is, the Legislature should take steps to rein in the insurers, or subsidize premiums for doctors in high-risk specialties or underserved areas, etc. Makes sense. But the insurers and the aligned big money interests wanted no part of that…don’t mess with the invisible hand of the free market, they said, despite the fact that they were charging more for less coverage in order to make up for bad business decisions made along the way (losses in the stock market, poor management, and so forth). So now we have Draconian damage caps and other hurdles affecting consumers but nothing to reform or stabilize the insurance market. Nada. Zip.

Apparently the same “crisis” was hyped in Maryland several years ago, when that state’s legislature contemplated ways to save their doctors. The state implemented a subsidy paid to the insurers to help the docs manage the higher premiums, the same proposal that went over like a lead balloon here in Texas.

The Washington Post reports that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) now has concerns that his predecessor, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R), might have exaggerated the economic hardship facing doctors when he called the General Assembly into emergency session in 2004 to fix what he called a malpractice “crisis.” In the midst of a downward economic cycle for the insurers, a “crisis” was fabricated in order to ram “reform” through the statehouse.

Sounds oddly familiar. Unfortunately for Texans, it won’t be so easy to repair the damage done to our rights. Getting legislators on board to repeal subsidies to insurance companies is a no-brainer; getting them on board to restore patients’ rights at the courthouse is another matter entirely.