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March 26, 2004 - Pennsylvania Governor Wants to Lower Medical Malpractice Insurance Premiums

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell believes medical malpractice insurance problems in Pennsylvania will be relieved if reforms he proposed this week become law.

But the Pennsylvania Medical Society said Thursday his proposals are not enough, and it will continue to push for a limit on awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.

Rendell's latest proposals include one that would limit lawyers' shares of malpractice awards, and another that would create a mediation program to give victims of medical malpractice an opportunity to settle their cases without going to court.

A spokeswoman said Rendell believes the new proposals, combined with reforms approved last year and in 2002, will provide the long-term solution to rising malpractice insurance premiums that doctors say are prompting them to limit their practices or leave the state.

It will take several years for premiums to come down, Rendell noted.

In order to keep doctors in Pennsylvania and make it attractive for young doctors in the short term, Rendell proposed extending his existing plan that pays the Mcare premiums of doctors who perform the riskiest procedures and cuts premiums in half for other doctors.

Mcare is a state-required second layer of malpractice coverage that doctors must carry.

The Mcare abatement plan, which costs about $220 million a year, trims about 35 percent from the premiums of doctors that include obstetricians and orthopedic surgeons, Rendell spokeswoman Kate Philips said.

The abatement program, funded with a 25-cent cigarette tax, would continue through 2007 and longer if insurance premiums haven't dropped.

The new proposals require approval from the Legislature. Philips said she expects the legislation to be introduced within six weeks.

Although it says caps on damage awards are still needed, the medical society praised Rendell for having "recognized the serious nature" of the problem. It said the Mcare abatement will help keep doctors in Pennsylvania in the short term.

In outlining his proposals, Rendell cited new statistics that show the number of malpractice cases filed in Pennsylvania dropped by 30 percent in 2003.

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