I am a trustee of Fort Washington Hospital in Prince George's County. Not only is the hospital paying significantly more for its medical liability insurance, but huge increases in liability insurance across the state are making it difficult for our hospital and others to retain high-quality physicians. Moreover, our physician population is aging, and it is becoming increasingly difficult in this litigious society to replace retiring physicians.
Patients crowd our emergency rooms; more than 31,000 visits were recorded last year at Fort Washington. While we like to think that the quality of our operation is why we've seen large increases in visits, this trend is partly due to concerns by physicians that office treatments, where the full spectrum of diagnostic testing may be lacking, could lead to lawsuits. This "defensive medicine" ends up costing consumers as much as four times what they would pay for an office visit.
Maryland's General Assembly failed to take steps aimed at reducing medical liability premiums during the 2004 session.
That is why Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has requested a special session to deal with tort reform [Metro, June 26].
Liability insurance premiums are becoming prohibitive for some physicians, and some are requesting that their hospitals cover some or all of their insurance costs. This is leading some hospitals to explore whether they should pay the premiums and offer the service or not pay the premiums and limit hospital services. In each case, the community is negatively affected.
Fort Washington Hospital has not yet had to limit services, but there is a threshold beyond which hospitals cannot go. This situation is especially pertinent to obstetricians, and for that reason several hospitals no longer provide obstetrical service.
Our legislators must find a workable solution to these issues. Otherwise, we will be facing a health care crisis.
BEVERLY J. ANDERSON