The Pennsylvania Senate voted Tuesday to extend a malpractice insurance subsidy for doctors and hospitals through next year but rejected an effort by Democrats to divert a surplus from a malpractice reserve fund to pay for adult health insurance.
The Republican-controlled chamber went on to pass the bill unanimously. However, the extension of the malpractice subsidy may remain in limbo past its Dec. 31 expiration because of a disagreement over a surplus of more than $400 million that has accumulated in the fund.
The bill would release money to help doctors and other health care providers pay for medical malpractice insurance coverage for a sixth straight year. Doctors who accept the insurance help must not move outside the state for at least a year.
The subsidy is paid for by a 25-cent-a-pack tax on cigarette sales and a surcharge on traffic citations that bring in about $220 million a year. The bill to renew it for another year still needs approval from the Democratic-controlled House before it can be signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell.
Rendell, also a Democrat, said last week that he will not approve another year of malpractice aid unless some of the surplus from the fund is transferred to pay for an expansion of the state’s adult health insurance program. The Senate on Tuesday voted 35-14 against an amendment to that effect.
The bill that senators approved is similar to a bill passed by the chamber in October, but which the House amended to accord with the governor’s plan.
The Senate’s latest effort would set aside $25 million in grants to help health care facilities computerize their medical records and another $25 million in grants to help them improve infection control.
The rest of the surplus would be left to pay for the malpractice claims that come due in the years after the program ends.
Senators were scheduled to leave Harrisburg for a monthlong holiday break after Wednesday.
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