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Trauma troubles are among top priorities

January 10, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Prompted by Washington County Hospital's trauma center troubles last summer, Maryland legislative leaders are seeking to subsidize the costly system statewide.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch is making the issue one of his two top priorities this legislative session, along with health insurance reform.

His proposal calls for direct payments to trauma doctors to reimburse them for treating uninsured patients.

The money could come from a $2 per vehicle charge on insurance carriers or an increase in the vehicle registration fee, Busch said.

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When Washington County Hospital Trauma Center closed for four months last year, it drew attention to a statewide problem of hospitals being unable to afford the high cost of trauma care.

"It demonstrated to the legislature we have a serious problem on our hands," said Del. John Hurson, D-Montgomery, who is co-sponsoring the legislation with Busch.

While earlier estimates pegged the cost of subsidizing the trauma network at $20 million, Busch said this week he believes it can be done for between $6 million and $8 million.

For four months this summer, Washington County Hospital closed its trauma center over a dispute with its surgeons about on-call pay and working conditions. It reopened Oct. 2.

Washington County Hospital now pays more than $1.5 million to keep its surgeons on call around the clock, said James Hamill, hospital president and chief executive officer.

Busch said that problem may be fixed without legislation.

The Health Services Cost Review Commission, which distributes insurance premiums to hospitals, may be able to begin reimbursing hospitals for doctors' on-call costs, Busch said.

Hamill said he is glad that some good may come out of Washington County's troubles.

"My sense is it was kind of a bellwether for the state. To that extent, it may have been a blessing in disguise," he said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, will play a key role in the legislation because he chairs a subcommittee that deals with all trauma center and hospital issues.

Lawmakers will have a briefing on the issue Tuesday.

Hurson said the legislation is a starting point to dealing with numerous trauma issues.

"We have the best trauma network in the country and the trauma centers around the state are feeling under pressure. It's very important to keep that system healthy and alive," he said.

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