The Pennsylvania Medical Association is asking physicians to delay paying for supplemental malpractice coverage while it lobbies hard for state coverage in the last few days of the legislative session.
Pennsylvania doctors learned in late November that Gov. Ed Rendell, citing state budgetary problems, had cancelled plans for the state to underwrite doctors' payments into the state Mcare fund. The state sent out letters to physicians stating they would have to pay 2003 Mcare bills of thousands of dollars each by Dec. 31.
Previously, Rendell had planned to remove 2003 Mcare payments for four specialties (obstetricians, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons and general surgeons) and cut rates in half for all other doctors, at a cost to the state of $220 million.
Now the Medical Society is lobbying to restore that relief in a state budget bill, which would be paid by raising the cigarette tax by 25 to 45 cents, says medical society spokesperson Peter Achor in an interview with Modern Physician.
Achor says the Legislature plans to adjourn for the year next Wednesday, but adds that lawmakers could decide to extend the session for a few days before or after Christmas, putting debate even closer to physicians' Dec. 31 deadline for paying their Mcare bills.
He says the society wants to go beyond Rendell's original plan and remove 100% of payments for all physicians, not just the for the four specialties, at a cost of $340 million.
Achor says the society is also making an end-of-year lobbying push for a bill to enact a constitutional amendment to allow for a cap on non-economic damages in malpractice suits.
He says that bill passed the House in the spring but has lingered since then in the state Senate.
If the bill passes, Pennsylvania doctors still have a long way to go before they could win caps. Achor says state rules on constitutional changes require that both houses pass it again in the 2005 session before it goes to the electorate. Then, Achor says, the Legislature would have to pass an actual cap on noneconomic damages.