Bill subsidizes trauma centers

April 08, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation Monday to subsidize the state's trauma centers, going with an 11th-hour plan to pay for it by increasing the vehicle registration fee.

Cost of a two-year vehicle registration would increase from $76 to $81, which would raise more than $12 million to keep the trauma network running.

The money would help cover trauma surgeons' costs for being on call and treating uninsured and underinsured patients.

Rural hospitals such as Washington County Hospital will be first in line to receive money, said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.


"I made it clear Washington County was where it started and we have to be taken care of first," Donoghue said.

Closure of the Washington County Hospital Trauma Center for four months last year drew attention to the problem.

Earlier this session, the House of Delegates had devised a plan to pay for the trauma network through an increase the driver's license fee from $30 to $40.

"Early on we felt it was more fair to spread it amongst all drivers," Donoghue said.

But last week the Senate suggested the money come from the vehicle registration fee since $22 of the fee already supports the state's emergency medical system.

Medevac helicopters, the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center's capital costs, training for fire and rescue volunteers and grants and low-interest loans to local fire and rescue companies are all already paid for by the surcharge.

The last-minute change threw the fate of the bill into doubt.

But on Monday, hours before the 90-day legislative session was to close, the House agreed to accept the changes. The bill passed by a vote of 124 to 16, with Washington County lawmakers in favor.

"We very much appreciate the fact that both houses have advanced this issue. We're anxious to see it finalized," said Washington County Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer James Hamill.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich has not taken a position on the bill, said spokesman Henry Fawell.

If signed, the fee increase would take effect July 1.

The legislature last raised the fee two years ago, when it went from $70 to $76.

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