Physicians, hospitals spared higher med-mal payments until April

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Physicians and other health care providers will not have to pay into a state-run medical malpractice insurance fund for the first quarter of 2008 while Gov. Ed Rendell and legislators joust over what to do with the fund’s surplus.

Rendell said Monday that collections on bills for the fund known as MCare will be postponed until April because the Legislature failed to extend a state subsidy beyond Dec. 31 that typically pays part of the cost. The subsidy, which is largely funded by a 25-cent tax on cigarette sales, began in 2003.

On Dec. 4, the Democratic governor said he would veto legislation to extend the MCare subsidy for another year if the Legislature did not agree to spend a portion of the fund’s projected $500 million surplus to help more low-income adults pay for health care insurance. Without the subsidy, doctors would pay a much bigger bill for the insurance coverage.

The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, approved a bill Dec. 11 that would spend $50 million of the surplus to help pay for hospitals to computerize their records and improve their infection control systems. However, neither the Senate nor the Democratic-controlled House passed a bill that would use the money for health insurance.

MCare covers medical malpractice settlements and judgments that rise above the $500,000 incident insurance coverage that health care providers are required to carry. MCare payouts are capped at $1 million per incident.

The MCare subsidy was introduced to help doctors afford their rising medical malpractice bills. Participation in MCare is mandatory for hospitals, nursing homes, birth centers, primary health centers, physicians, podiatrists and nurse midwives that conduct most of their business in Pennsylvania.
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