Hospital officials, legislators, physicians and their patients filled the Jaycees Community Center in Waldorf on Wednesday evening to examine how sharp increases in medical malpractice insurance rates may affect access to health care in Southern Maryland.

The forum was held as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and leaders of the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, struggled to find a compromise that might justify calling a special legislative session. Ehrlich's latest proposal was rejected last week by state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and other leaders.

At the Waldorf town meeting, which was organized by the four hospitals serving Southern Maryland, doctors described how the rising insurance costs could cause them to limit or leave their medical practices. Some patients said they have faced the loss of family doctors because of the insurance rates. Roger and Rhonda Scaife of Waldorf told the gathering that the issue caused their six children's physician to stop treating them because he is limiting his practice.

The state's largest malpractice insurer, the Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, plans to send out bills tomorrow that will reflect a 33 percent rate increase for the coming year that was recently approved by the state insurance commissioner.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) addresses the town hall meeting on sharp increases in medical malpractice insurance.Rhonda Scaife of Waldorf holds daughter Terry as her husband, Roger, talks about losing their family doctor. Rising liability rates have led the physician to limit his practice, and he will no longer treat their six children.