A key House subcommittee completed its reconstructive surgery on Gov. Harry Hughes' package of health care legislation tonight by refusing to approve a revenue cap on Maryland hospitals and substantially amending five other bills.
Before sending the legislation to the full House Environmental Matters Committee, which will vote on the package Thursday, the subcommittee voted to weaken some of the broad authority given to state health regulators in the governor's original legislation.
Hughes' bills, which grew out of the recommendations of a gubernatorial task force, are designed to give the state the power to eliminate about 4,000 excess hospital beds.
In amending the package, the committee has removed virtually all of the objections of the state's medical care industry and paved the way for approval in the full House, where Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin has made passage a major priority. But the package's prospects remain uncertain in the Senate, where opposition is considerably stronger.
Although the subcomittee took no position on the revenue cap -- the most controversial part of the package -- that was a polite deception in deference to Cardin, who has urged the House to adopt all the legislation. The cap is expected to be killed in full committee.
Elimination of the revenue cap would sweep away the objections of the powerful Maryland Hospital Association and remove a bill that had become a drag on the entire cost containment effort.
"I think we strengthened all the bills," said Del. Marilyn Goldwater (D-Montgomery), a member of the subcommittee that spent more than a week refining the legislation.
Among the changes adopted by the subcommittee are substantial modifications to a pair of bills placing a moratorium on hospital expansions and giving the governor authority to impose future bans.
As amended by the committee, the emergency moratorium legislation contains a mechanism to allow exemptions for at least a half dozen projects for which hospitals have already filed for certificates of need. The potential exemptions would include projects at the Chestnut Lodge Psychiatric Hospital in Rockville and Howard County General Hospital.
The subcommittee also agreed to limit any future moratoriums imposed by the governor to six months unless extended by the General Assembly. Also, the governor's power to order future moratoriums would be limited to specific classes of hospital projects to prevent him from imposing a statewide ban, and his power would expire after three years.
The subcommittee also raised from $400,000 to $600,000 the amount doctors could spend on sophisticated equipment before they would have to seek state approval.