GOP: Declare an emergency in malpractice insurance crisis

Without an emergency declaration, voters won't get to address the medical malpractice issue until 2005.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- Republicans in the state House of Representatives are urging Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell to declare an emergency to speed up a statewide vote on any constitutional changes that might be needed to alleviate Pennsylvania's medical-malpractice insurance crisis.
Freshman Rep. Melissa Murphy Weber, who was joined by about 60 other Republicans who favor imposing a cap on lawsuit awards for pain and suffering, said bypassing the normal process for amending the Constitution would enable lawmakers to send a proposal to voters as early as this year.
"It is an emergency that must be addressed now. We cannot afford to wait until April 1," when a task force Rendell appointed to come up with long-term solutions is expected to issue its report, said Weber, R-Montgomery.
The state Constitution currently requires any constitutional amendments to be passed in two legislative sessions before they can be presented to voters. Without an emergency declaration, any such proposal could not be put to referendum until 2005, Weber said.
A Rendell spokesman said that, although the governor is willing to consider limiting jury awards for pain and suffering, he opposes bypassing the normal process simply to pass such a measure.
In January, Rendell criticized President Bush's plan to reduce skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates by capping jury awards, saying that there is "no silver bullet" to solve the problem.
Lawmakers are still struggling with ways to reduce medical malpractice insurance rates, despite passing two reform bills last year. Doctors have threatened to leave the state because of malpractice premiums that have risen as high as $200,000 a year for some.
Weber said she and her colleagues are interested in pursuing a wide range of solutions to the malpractice problem. Other measures would take steps such as creating separate medical malpractice courts; increasing reimbursement rates for physicians practicing in high-risk specialties; and reducing the minimum amount coverage required for doctors and hospitals from $500,000 to $250,000 annually.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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