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Trauma funding sought by Hamill

January 31, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County Hospital President and CEO James Hamill asked Maryland lawmakers Thursday to remember the needs of rural hospitals in their efforts to subsidize the state trauma center network.

"I see us as the weakest point in the chain," Hamill said.

Hamill testified before the House Health and Government Operations Committee, which is reviewing the trauma center legislation.

Washington County's trauma center closed for four months last year because there weren't enough surgeons to staff it around-the-clock.

"We had a very long, hot summer in Western Maryland," Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, told the committee.

In order to reopen the trauma center, the hospital agreed to pay surgeons $1.7 million a year in on-call costs. However, those costs cannot be recovered through hospital rates, he said.

Other community-based trauma centers testified about the need to reimburse doctors for time spent away from more lucrative private practices.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, is backing legislation to help the trauma doctors.

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"We're not trying to make the doctors independently wealthy. I think it's urgent for everyone to prioritize this legislation to protect the finest trauma system in the country," Busch said.

Under Busch's original bill, the state would reimburse doctors for treating uninsured and underinsured patients, solving a problem that is prevalent at larger metropolitan hospitals.

Busch has now changed his proposal to allow hospitals to also recover on-call costs, which would help Washington County Hospital and other smaller trauma centers.

Busch initially had proposed a $2 per vehicle charge on insurance carriers, which would raise about $6 million to $8 million for the trauma centers.

But the committee is looking at other ways of raising money, including vehicle registration fees and drunken driving fines.

Now that the bill has been changed to include on-call costs, the price tag has jumped to an estimated $12 million to $16 million, said Committee Chairman John A. Hurson, D-Montgomery.

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