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Differing Bills Face Same Fate: Ehrlich's Veto

Miller said he is hopeful that the Senate and House can reach a compromise but said both chambers would need to give ground in upcoming negotiations.

"It depends on the speaker, quite frankly," Miller said.


"He should sleep on it and declare victory," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., should the House and Senate reach a deal on medical malpractice insurance reform. (James M Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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During debate on the Senate floor, Republicans blasted Frosh's version of the bill, saying its legal changes, commonly referred to as tort reform, were not sweeping enough to have much effect on doctors' insurance rates. Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County), the Senate's only doctor, characterized the bill as "tort reform ultra-lite."

Doctors and insurance companies contend that inflated economic damages have driven up jury awards and settlements.

Frosh, a trial lawyer, defended his bill as a "comprehensive and balanced" approach that also improves patient safety and holds insurance companies more accountable.

He also argued that some of the provisions pushed by the governor could harm innocent victims of medical errors, only a fraction of whom win jury verdicts or settlements. "Victims got it tough the way things stand," Frosh said.

A Republican effort to substitute Ehrlich's plan for Frosh's bill failed in the Senate, 30 to 17.

Though the outcome of the session remained uncertain last night, some lawmakers said they would consider it a valuable exercise.

"Even if [Ehrlich] does veto this, at least we've done a lot of the basic work," said Del. John A. Hurson (D-Montgomery).

Ehrlich and legislative leaders have talked about the prospects of a special session since summer, when the magnitude of doctors' insurance increases became clear. Those insured by the state's largest carrier, the Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, face a second straight year of double-digit increases.

Medical Mutual said its payouts for medical malpractice cases jumped from $56 million in 2002 to a record $93 million last year.

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery) accused the governor of letting Medical Mutual off the hook for its share of the burden. He produced figures showing that, even as it asked for rate increases, the company was amassing record surpluses, as high as $113.4 million last year.

Legislative leaders sidestepped one source of contention yesterday when they agreed to delay votes on whether to revive legislation Ehrlich vetoed in the spring. Busch and Miller sought the delay because 10 Democrats could not attend the hastily called session, including Prince George's County Dels. Anthony G. Brown, Carolyn J.B. Howard, Pauline H. Menes, Doyle L. Niemann and Rosetta C. Parker, Charles County Del. Sally Jameson and Montgomery County Del. Henry B. Heller.

The lawmakers cited medical reasons, vacation plans or, in Brown's case, reservist duty in Iraq, for missing the session.


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