Subsidies to 30,000 doctors and healthcare providers who pay into a state-run program that provides catastrophic medical malpractice insurance would be extended for one more year under a bill passed unanimously by the Pennsylvania Legislature on Friday.
The bill, which passed 47-0 in the Senate and 196-0 in the House, would extend the subsidies through 2005. Gov. Ed Rendell is expected to sign the measure.
Last year, the Legislature approved two years of subsidies for doctors, covering 2003 and 2004, at an annual cost of $220 million to be paid out of cigarette tax revenues and overflows from a state automobile insurance fund.
Rendell had first proposed the subsidy to help doctors afford rising insurance premiums until tougher restrictions on filing medical malpractice lawsuits designed to lower insurance costs could take effect. He originally had proposed a three-year subsidy.
Republican lawmakers said they would determine next year if the subsidies needed to be extended beyond 2005.
The tax dollars help most physicians pay some or all of the assessment for the state-run fund called MCare, which helps pay the cost of malpractice claims that rise above the $500,000 in primary coverage that the state requires each doctor to secure from the private marketplace.
Certain high-risk specialists - orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, neurosurgeons, obstetrician-gynecologists, emergency physicians, nurse-midwives and physicians who deliver babies in rural areas - would be relieved of their entire MCare assessment, an amount that is typically less than their primary coverage premiums.
Most other physicians would pay half of their MCare assessment. The bill would add podiatrists to the doctors who pay half of their MCare assessment, which would cost the state about $2.7 million annually.
A doctor who accepts the subsidy must stay in Pennsylvania through the end of the following year.