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Northwest Maryland doctors halt non-emergency surgery to protest premium increase

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) _ Physicians in a northwest Maryland county plan to halt non-emergency surgeries for at least two weeks to protest a 33 percent increase in malpractice insurance premiums.

The Maryland Insurance Administration on Sept. 14 approved the rate increase for 2005 for Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, which insures most of the state's doctors. The move comes after a 28 percent increase this year, bringing premiums to as high as $150,000 for some doctors.

Dr. Karl Riggle, a surgeon, said the ``vast majority of specialists'' agreed at a meeting Thursday at Washington County Hospital to protest the increase starting Nov. 15.

``I guess 'job action' is the right word for it,'' he said.

Surgeries that will not get done include hernia repair, gallbladder removal, breast biopsies and colonoscopies, Riggle said. Surgeries for trauma, ruptured aneurysms and other emergencies will continue, he said.

It was not immediately clear how many physicians the protest would involve.

The action will continue until Dec. 1, when malpractice insurance premiums for next year are due, Riggle said. He said if state legislators do not pass malpractice insurance reforms by then, the doctors may extend the protest.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike, a Democrat who has opposed malpractice reform, said lawmakers would not be bullied into action.

However, he renewed a call for a special session on the issue this fall, saying a $50 million state fund could help insurers pay for jury awards and settlements, allowing them to keep rates low.
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