Docsâ€™ malpractice plan hinges on coverage plea
BY DANIEL AXELROD
Local state representatives are at the heart of a debate pitting an extension of a state-funded medical malpractice insurance abatement against a plan to expand coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured adults.
The bill is similar to but not as ambitious as Gov. Ed Rendellâ€™s Cover All Pennsylvanians proposal.
Now, Mr. Rendell and some House lawmakers are pressuring the Senate to pass the Pennsylvania ABC plan.
They say theyâ€™ll let MCare â€” a popular temporary state program that helps doctors buy medical malpractice coverage â€” expire Monday if the senators donâ€™t take up the issue. MCare was created in 2003 when skyrocketing insurance rates led doctors to leave Pennsylvania.
â€œThis is our leverage to get this through the Senate. If you uncouple the two, then youâ€™re not going to get this done,â€? said Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston.
â€œWeâ€™ve spent over $1 billion subsidizing physician malpractice insurance, itâ€™s time we do something for all the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians without health care,â€? Ms. Mundy said.
The stateâ€™s uninsured residents are pegged at from 400,000 to more than 1 million. But many senators in the Republican-controlled chamber, including Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, and Democratic leader Robert Mellow, of Peckville, question the House billâ€™s timing. They also say linking it to MCareâ€™s extension is irresponsible.
â€œThe proponents feel the need to hold another unquestionably important piece of legislation hostage in order to advance a piece of legislation that canâ€™t advance on its own merits,â€? Mr. Pileggi said.
Critics think funding sources are inadequate for a measure expected to cost $120 million in the first year and $1.1 billion by 2012-13.
Opponents bristle at using the roughly $400 million MCare fund surplus, from a 25-cent cigarette tax, when Pennsylvania is still on the hook for supporting doctors.
â€œThis is typical Harrisburg,â€? Mr. Mellow said. â€œFind a pot of money regardless of what it might be, use it immediately to resolve a problem thatâ€™s going on today, and donâ€™t worry about how to fund this even two years from now.â€?
Mr. Eachus said he can fund the bill, which would gradually expand coverage to about 270,000 adults and phase out MCare. Besides using MCareâ€™s surplus, he wants to pass a tax for smokeless tobacco and cigars, use federal Medicaid dollars along with funding from tobacco and Blue Cross settlements.
Rep. Frank Shimkus, D-Throop, said the point of passing the bill was to figure out how to fund it.
â€œPassing this forces our hand. It says, â€˜Now have to knuckle down,â€™ â€? he added.
â€œIt does no good to the people who have no health care to say, â€˜One day weâ€™ll find a way to fund it.â€™ â€?
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