An apology to the PMS

April 28, 2010

A few months ago I caught some grief when I described the actions of the Pennsylvania legislature as “theft” and called the governor a crook. The (admittedly) inflammatory statements were made in a blog criticizing the impotence of the Pennsylvania Medical Society when the Pennsylvania state government elected to steal money from the MCARE fund and use it to pay union pensions and fill potholes. I owe the PMS an apology.

A few months ago I caught some grief when I described the actions of the Pennsylvania legislature as “theft” and called the governor a crook.  

The (admittedly) inflammatory statements were made in a blog criticizing the impotence of the Pennsylvania Medical Society when the Pennsylvania state government elected to steal money from the MCARE fund and use it to pay union pensions and fill potholes (MCARE is a pot of money collected from taxes levied against physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, surgicenters, etc., set up and specifically dedicated to reimburse lawyers and victims of medical malpractice).

I owe the PMS an apology.

This week the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania sided with several petitioners, including the Pennsylvania Medical Society, in categorizing the transfer of monies from the MCARE fund to the general purposes fund as “unlawful.” In a 4-1 decision, the court ordered the state to return $880 million dollars to MCARE because the legislature’s decision to transfer money from the fund to close the budget deficit violated the 2003 law which specifically dictates that any surplus funds were to be returned to health care providers who paid into the program.

The governor and the Pennsylvania state legislature knowingly and willingly violated the law and the civil rights of all healthcare providers in the state. That’s right – civil rights, as defined as the class of rights and freedoms that protect individuals from unwarranted government action and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.

Just so I’m perfectly clear on this: In 2003 the governor and the state legislature passed a law that created a new tax specifically levied against healthcare providers to create a fund called MCARE to reimburse plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits when a settlement or judgment exceeded insurance coverage.

In effect, the lawyers created a big trough, similar to a Roman vomitorium, where they could root and snort and gorge themselves on money extorted from doctors, and included some fancy wordsmithing that made it seem as if the fund was being created as a bridge to a better healthcare reimbursement system. Fast forward seven years, and in an effort to cover up their criminal economic mismanagement, the same legislature votes to steal $100 million from the MCARE fund to pay for school lunches and police department overtime to cover the Phillies World Series tickertape parade. What hubris. What a disgusting display of naked corruption.

The heroes in this story are the Pennsylvania Medical Society and its President James A. Goodyear, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, and the other litigants in the lawsuit that brought the theft to the attention of the Commonwealth court. I have been very critical of the PMS in the past, and I am pleased that the leadership has become serious about not negotiating with the mob in the Pennsylvania statelLegislature and instead fighting them tooth and nail. I apologize for my past criticisms of the PMS and I applaud their decision to get tough and sue the state.

In my ER, the news of the court’s decision resulted in cheers and backslapping. One colleague wondered where the state was going to get the money to close the $100 million dollar budget gap, now that the MCARE monies are being returned to the physicians’ fund.

My suggestion: tax the lawyers. Seriously. Why not levy a 25 percent tax on the monies collected from personal injury settlements and judgments and use those proceeds to close the state’s budget gap?