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Trauma legislation to be revisited

April 04, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A Maryland Senate panel is revising its plan to subsidize trauma centers, proposing to raise money through the state's vehicle registration fee instead of the driver's license fee.

Its action means that a conference committee between the House and the Senate must decide by Monday which fee to raise in order to keep the network running.

Earlier this session, the House of Delegates voted to raise the driver's license fee to $40 from $30.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, said it makes more sense to increase the vehicle registration fee, $22 of which already supports the trauma network.

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Under the plan, the cost of a two-year vehicle registration would increase from $76 to $80.

Either fee increase would raise about $8 million, which would help cover trauma surgeons' costs for being on call and treating uninsured patients.

"Neither one's any more politically easy to swallow. The price of keeping a world-class shock-trauma system is rather expensive," he said.

On Tuesday, the Finance Committee approved a trauma bill that was more similar to the House bill because it relied on the driver's license fee.

But the committee decided to revisit the bill, Middleton said. Its new plan is expected to reach the full Senate by Saturday.

Del. John P. Donoghue, who worked on the House version of the bill, said he is trying to iron out the differences.

"I'm just trying to hold everything together," said Donoghue, D-Washington.

The genesis of the bill was the fact that Washington County Hospital's Trauma Center closed for four months last year after a dispute with doctors over pay.

Sen. J. Robert Hooper, R-Cecil/Harford, said he was worried that the legislature would have to come back again in two years and raise the registration fee again.

"The folks out there at home are really going to rip and holler at us," Hooper said.

Sen. John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel, said the legislature will have a better idea of the trauma network's problems after a detailed study if called for by the legislation.

Advocates for the bill said they don't have a preference for which fee is raised.

"What we want is for them to keep sight of the purpose of the bill, which is to keep the trauma network running. We just do not want this bill going down," said John Spearman, chairman of the Maryland Trauma Center Network.

Pegeen Townsend, a lobbyist for the Maryland Hospital Association, said there is broad support in the legislature for helping the network and the funding source is a detail.

"I don't think it's an unresolvable difference," she said.

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