ANNAPOLIS -- House and Senate committees approved identical bills yesterday requiring Maryland hospitals and laboratories to report all newly diagnosed cancer cases to a central registry.
The registry would be a cornerstone of the effort to learn why Maryland has the highest cancer death rate of any state in the nation.
With copies of the same bill moving to the floors of the House and Senate, approval by the General Assembly is expected.
Once signed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who requested the legislation, the new law would go into effect July 1.
The bill is stronger than existing law, which does not require reporting by hospitals or laboratories.
But the Maryland Hospital Association and the Schaefer administration compromised on an amendment yesterday that excludes half of the state's hospitals from reporting follow-up information on the condition of cancer patients.
The more information a registry contains about its cancer patients -- stage of disease at diagnosis, environmental and occupation
al risk factors, and treatment received, for example -- the more clues could be available to explain why certain areas have higher death rates than others. Public health authorities can offer resources to those areas.
However, Andrew B. Wigglesworth, the hospital association's lobbyist, said it would be too expensive for smaller hospitals to develop computer systems to track a patient's disease and send information to the state registry.
For the past nine years, state officials have been building a data base about cancer patients, but not all hospitals have reported to it.
As a result, statisticians say the data is not complete enough to mirror the true incidence of cancer in Maryland.
The bills headed for consideration by the House and Senate shift responsibility for the registry from the Department of the HTC Environment to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene because of its ongoing cancer prevention program.
Ron Nelson, deputy secretary of the Department of thEnvironment, said that department will use the registry's data to look for environmental causes of cancer.