A Senate panel, trying to advance a package of bills intended to curb rising medical malpractice insurance premiums, erupted in sharp conflict today after some senators argued that the measures would accomplish nothing.
After several hours of debate, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a bill that would lower the age at which a minor can sue for malpractice.
But committee Chairman Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) reluctantly delayed until Monday a vote on one of the most controversial bills of the legislative session, a measure that would cap jury awards for so-called pain and suffering losses at $250,000, after several legislators argued, with tempers rising, that the bills would curb individual rights but would have no effect on insurance rates.
"We're willing to put the onus on the victim -- that's wrong," said Sen. Margaret C. Schweinhaut (D-Montgomery). "The fact of the matter is, as I see it, that this legislature is helpless to do anything to address the insurance problem."
Sen. John Pica (D-Baltimore) added, "This committee ought to exhaust every possibility before it cripples the rights of people who . . . are injured by doctors."
But Miller and Vice Chairman Walter Baker (D-Cecil) argued that rising insurance premiums pose such a threat to the medical profession that, in Baker's words, "we've got to attempt extraordinary measures."
Today's debate flared up as the committee began to vote on more than two dozen insurance-related bills submitted by the Hughes administration and individual lawmakers. If passed, the measures, which attempt to address the problem of increasingly scarce and expensive liability insurance, would make it more difficult to bring lawsuits and less expensive for insurers to pay damage awards.
Insurance company executives have joined doctors and other professionals hit with rising rates to wage an intensive lobbying effort for the measures. Lawyer groups oppose the bills and have maintained that the real problem lies in an underregulated insurance industry.