Insurance subsidy for docs set to end Monday

BY ROBERT SWIFT
http://www.thetimes-tribune.com

HARRISBURG — Legislative leaders remain at odds over health care issues, thus making it likely a state program to reduce malpractice insurance costs for doctors will expire as scheduled on Monday.
The dispute means that Pennsylvania doctors will have to make malpractice payments Monday with no state-subsidized abatement to ease the sting.

But Gov. Ed Rendell held out hope for a refund to doctors if the legislative impasse is eventually resolved.

The dispute is over whether to link a major expansion of a state-subsidized health care program for uninsured adults with a long-term extension of the doctors’ Mcare abatement fund or just renew the fund for one year as has been the practice. This fund was created five years ago to put a break on soaring malpractice premiums for doctors.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a bill two weeks ago to expand the health care program to include 270,000 working adults who lack insurance and extend the Mccare fund for 10 years.

Leaders of both parties in the Republican-controlled Senate have criticized the bill for having funding gaps.

Linkage disputes crop up frequently when legislation is considered by the two chambers. But the approach of Monday’s deadline led to 11th-hour maneuvering by lawmakers on Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, called on the House Democratic leaders to decouple the two issues and approve a Senate-passed bill to extend the Mcare fund by one year.

“The one-year Mcare abatement extension should be considered on its own merit,� said Mr. Pileggi. �The broader debate on health care issues can continue, but the physicians, hospitals and nursing homes should not be caught up in a political quagmire not of their making.’

At day’s end, House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, and Policy Committee Chairman Todd Eachus, D-Butler Township, urged the Senate to tackle both issues.

“Senator Pileggi is only focusing on helping doctors at the expense of making it possible for working people who get sick or injured to be able to afford to visit those doctors,� said Mr. Eachus, who is the chamber’s point man on health issues and sponsor of the bill passed two weeks ago. “We think both sides deserve assistance.�

In a letter to physicians, Mr. Rendell said Monday’s deadline will not be met. He urged them to be patient. He said the House-passed bill also benefits doctors by providing higher reimbursement rates.

The legislative authorization for the Mcare fund expired on Dec. 31, but Mr. Rendell had earlier extended the deadline for payments until Monday.

Rep. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, warned that many doctors will be unable to afford unabated malpractice bills ranging from $35,000 for specialists to $50,000 for neurosurgeons and may have their licenses suspended.

Contact the writer: rswift@timesshamrock.com

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