A key Pennsylvania lawmaker will stop blocking a vote on a cap for noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits, but only if some exceptions are made for catastrophic claims, his aides said last week.
State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not allow cap legislation to get through his committee to the Senate floor this year, but he is drafting a proposal for a cap that would be introduced early next year, his aides said.
The aides, who did not want to be identified, said Greenleaf plans to hold hearings on a cap beginning Jan. 20, the Senate's first working day, and that a vote by the full Senate is expected in February or March.
The aides said Greenleaf wants exceptions to the cap for catastrophic injuries, such as major injuries to a child. The Pennsylvania Medical Society, however, opposes exceptions to a cap, arguing that the arrangement could not keep soaring malpractice premiums in check. Premiums are particularly high in Pennsylvania.
This year, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill authorizing a state constitutional amendment to permit legislation limiting noneconomic damages, but that bill failed to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Greenleaf aides said.
In another Pennsylvania development, Gov. Ed Rendell late last month signed a bill calling for $220 million in subsidies for Mcare, the state-run physicians' supplemental malpractice insurance program.
After months of delay, the Pennsylvania Senate and House passed the subsidy for doctors' payments to the state Mcare program last month.
The plan calls for state coverage over two years of all Mcare payments for general surgeons, neurosurgeons, obstetricians and orthopedic surgeons, as well as rural family physicians who deliver babies. In addition, the state will pay half the Mcare bill for all other physicians.
Rendell's office said the cost would be funded by a 25-cent increase in the state cigarette tax.
Doctors had already received a notice in the mail that they had to pay their full Mcare premiums by Dec. 31. Officials at the Pennsylvania Medical Society said it was not clear whether doctors could ignore that notice or whether they had to pay by the deadline and then apply for a rebate.
Experts on the bill in the governor's office did not respond to requests for comment.
In a press release, the medical society applauded the bill, saying, "Without this relief, physicians would have been forced to leave in droves, creating even bigger holes in patients' access to care." But the society added that this is only "short-term relief" and the group would like the Legislature to pass a cap on noneconomic damages.
Editors note: This page brought to you by Modern Physician: Business news and information for physician executives, leaders and entrepreneurs. For more information, please visit modernphysician.com.