Rendell won't cut out state Mcare program

BY DAVID WENNER
Of The Patriot-News

Gov. Ed Rendell has given himself more time to persuade legislators to use a cigarette tax to help pay doctors’ medical malpractice insurance costs and also fund his proposal to provide health insurance for all Pennsylvanians.

In a letter dated Friday, Rendell extended until March 31 the deadline for doctors to participate in Mcare, a state fund that helps pay the cost of large awards in medical malpractice cases.

That’s a change from a few weeks ago, when Rendell threatened to stop helping doctors if he didn’t gain approval by year’s end for his “Cover All Pennsylvanians” plan for state-subsidized health insurance.

Legislators have left for the year without settling either matter.

Five years ago, Rendell created an abatement program that uses a tax of 25 cents on each pack of cigarettes to help cover doctors’ Mcare costs. Because medical malpractice lawsuits have declined in Pennsylvania, the Mcare abatement fund now has a large surplus, according to Rendell’s letter.

Rendell says the fund is large enough now to continue the doctors’ program for another 10 years, while also funding his state-subsidized health insurance plan.

The state-subsidized insurance is a major part of the plan for universal health care coverage that Rendell rolled out at the beginning of the year.

Originally, Rendell wanted to partially pay for the coverage with a 3 percent payroll tax on employers who don’t offer employee health benefits. But that proposal met strong resistance from business groups, and many Democrats declined to support it.

This month, Rendell proposed using the Mcare abatement fund surplus, which he says is nearing $500 million.

Rendell has said he wants to continue the abatement program for doctors. But he threatened to end it if he can’t gain approval to fund the subsidized health insurance coverage.
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