Opinion: Health-care stalemate must end


Politics is often defined by conflict. Many Pennsylvanians even relish a healthy political battle. But state Senate Republicans are playing with fire on health care — the kind that could cost you your favorite doctor or specialist if a stalemate over malpractice insurance isn’t resolved soon.

Doctors, patients and uninsured residents of Pennsylvania were basically joined at the hip this month when the state’s successful five-year, $1 billion state subsidy program that helped doctors purchase medical malpractice insurance lapsed.

The issue involves a complex blend of politics. But simply put, once Senate leaders declined to act either on Rendell’s “Cover All Pennsylvanians” or the state House’s less ambitious plan to cover 220,000 more working-age uninsured individuals, a health-care standoff over helping doctors pay malpractice insurance began.

The House bill is called Pennsylvania Access to Basic Care. It would cover 222,000 Pennsylvanians ages 19 to 64 who don’t have health insurance. The existing adult basic plan would include 53,174 enrollees. Some would pay a premium for coverage depending on their incomes.

This legislation would also fund an extension of the MCare abatement over 10 years that would invest $3.3 billion more to help doctors pay for malpractice insurance. But Senate leaders, complaining how the House bill would be funded, won’t bring it up for a vote.

This means the state’s physicians must come up with malpractice payments that range from $1,500 a year for primary care physicians to $15,000 annually for high-risk specialists such as orthopedic surgeons and obstetricians.

As a recent Erie Times-News story revealed, some local physicians told Pennsylvania Medical Society President Peter Lund, M.D., that they might retire rather than pay higher malpractice insurance premiums.

“We might see a considerable flight of physicians out of the state,” Lund said. “I have received calls from two Erie County physicians who told me they have had enough, and they are taking early retirement.” Lund said he wrote a check for almost $10,000 for malpractice insurance.

It’s an election year, and nobody, including Senate Republicans, wants to be associated with a tax increase, if that would happen. It’s also certainly fair for Senate Republicans to complain that the malpractice fund should not have been included in the effort to provide uninsured Pennsylvanians with health-care coverage.

But that’s the bill on the table. That’s the political reality right now. It’s just as appropriate to point out that Senate leaders are the ones putting patients, the uninsured and physicians in the middle of this political stalemate.

Here’s a recommendation for both sides of the issue: Let’s negotiate a compromise, because compromise isn’t a bad thing. Partisan politics usually serve only pride and ego. Partisan division is why so many people don’t know enough about their state government, or care enough about it.

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