- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Democratic lawmakers who opposed medical-malpractice insurance reform legislation that levied a tax on health maintenance organizations are reluctant to say whether they will support Republican efforts to repeal it.

HMOs said last week that they will pass on to their customers the 2 percent tax, costing the average family about $200 more a year in health insurance premiums.

“My people cannot afford an insurance premium increase,” said Delegate Tony E. Fulton, a Baltimore Democrat who would not say whether he would support repealing the tax.

“The 2 percent tax is regressive,” said Delegate Marshall T. Goodwin, Baltimore Democrat, adding that he did not know of an effort to repeal the tax.

Republican leaders last week announced they would submit legislation aimed at repealing the tax.

Democratic lawmakers — who outnumber Republicans by 2-1 margins in both chambers of the General Assembly — enacted the tax when they overrode Mr. Ehrlich’s veto last month, despite his warning that HMOs would pass on the tax to their customers.

Democratic leaders championed the legislation and the new tax.

Sen. Roy Dyson of Calvert County was one of two Democratic senators who voted to sustain Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s veto of the medical-malpractice bill that included the HMO tax.

“Taxes are always an issue for me,” Mr. Dyson said. “I would like to see [tax-repeal legislation] on paper.”

“I have to see what the proposal would be,” said Sen. John C. Astle of Anne Arundel County, the other Senate Democrat who supported Mr. Ehrlich’s veto.

Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Fulton joined seven other House Democrats to try to sustain the governor’s veto last month. Another of their number — Delegate John S. Arnick, Baltimore County Democrat — said he is more concerned about the lack of provisions that limit lawsuits than he is about the HMO tax.

“The money is not that important to me. Somebody’s got to pay for it,” Mr. Arnick said.

Mr. Arnick, Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Fulton said repeal legislation would need further study. Other House Democrats who supported the veto could not be reached for comment.

Revenue from the HMO tax — an estimated $64 million over three years — will be used to subsidize doctors’ malpractice insurance premiums, which have risen nearly 70 percent in the past two years.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, had proposed using $48.5 million from the state’s general fund to subsidize the doctors’ insurance bills.

His budget set aside $30 million to defray the cost of medical-malpractice premiums and $18.5 million in Medicaid reimbursements, the state’s budget office said.

The Medicaid reimbursements will total $37 million when the federal government matches the state’s payment. The Medicaid funds will help general surgeons, neurosurgeons, obstetricians, orthopedists and emergency-room physicians defray costs.

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