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Task Force Recommends Birth Injury Fund for Maryland

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Maryland should set up a birth injury fund to help care for babies who incur neurological injuries during birth, a task force established by the state’s General Assembly earlier this year has recommended.

The task force’s report, covered by the Baltimore Sun Dec. 24, says that such a fund, paid into by doctors, hospitals and insurers, will mean that more children can get compensation than are currently able to do so through the legal system.

A bill establishing such a fund was introduced in the past session of the Assembly and drew support from both sides of the aisle, but didn’t pass. Its sponsor in the House, Del. Dan Morhaim, said he plans to reintroduce the measure.

“The goal is to get people the help they need without having to go through a protracted litigation,” Morhaim, who is a doctor, explained. “It’s like the lottery now, with some winners and some who get no relief.”

Virginia and Florida have already created similar funds.

A No-Fault System
Each year, medical malpractice leads to about 98,000 deaths in the United States, as well as numerous injuries and disorders. But in order to receive compensation for these mistakes, patients or their families generally must go through the legal system and demonstrate that the medical practitioner’s negligence led to the injury or fatality.

The suggested Maryland fund, on the other hand, would be disbursed on a no-fault basis.

“The fund means babies born with injuries get compensation even when there wasn’t negligence but the outcome was just bad,” explained Dr. Andrew J. Satin, director of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a task force member.

Protecting the Right Parties
Some patient advocates and malpractice attorneys, however, worry that a fund would protect healthcare providers at the expense of patients. “As I see it, any such fund would inevitably lead to a lack of meaningful accountability, which would lead to further negligence, and inevitably hurt the victims and their families with unfair and unjust compensation,” patient advocate Michael Bennett told the Sun.

Wayne Willoughby, a malpractice lawyer at Gershon, Willoughby, Getz and Smith LLC and past president of the Maryland Association for Justice, pointed out that Virginia’s fund is already projected to have deficits that may threaten payments altogether.

But the task force says that some of the expected advantages for healthcare providers — such as lower malpractice costs — will also benefit patients because the specter of malpractice suits can drive providers away from the area.

Obstetrics Concerns in Maryland
A lack of providers isn’t the only concern for obstetrics in Maryland. Earlier this year, the Baltimore Business Journal predicted that statistics on prenatal and natal care are likely to bolster support for a no-fault injury fund. The infant mortality rate in Maryland edged slightly higher last year, the first increase in years.

At the same time all these issues are being debated, it has been announced that former legislator Van Mitchell will be the state’s next health secretary.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Health Care For All Coalition, told the Baltimore Business Journal Dec. 23 that Mitchell’s job will be “to save money without hurting people.”

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