Doctors, HMOs call truce in Annapolis Groups declare legislative 'principles of agreement'

January 31, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Peter Jensen contributed to this article.

After years of fighting each other, doctors and health maintenance organizations have declared a truce on several legislative issues ranging from emergency room care to maternity benefits.

In an unusual display of cooperation, lobbyists from both sides outlined their "principles of agreement" at a meeting of the House Environmental Matters Committee yesterday.

They said the HMOs have agreed to support legislation that would require them to pay for more emergency room visits, as well as to make it easier for new mothers to stay an extra day in the hospital.

The agreement also would allow individual doctors to criticize HMOs when they disagree with their policies, said Joseph A. Schwartz III, lobbyist for the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, a medical society.

In return, the medical society agreed not to support several measures that have long been opposed by HMOs, including proposals to force HMOs to accept any physician into their organization.

Both sides said they hope the agreement will help them become more effective in Annapolis by avoiding a few, although certainly not all, battles.

"We finally decided not to fight about a couple things and to put forth a proposal that might be productive," said J. William Pitcher, lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Health Maintenance Organizations.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland also agreed to the proposal, officials said.

While praising the attempt at cooperation, some legislators warned that insurers and doctors should not expect their legislation to be rubber-stamped by the General Assembly.

"Agreements by two special interest groups do not and should not direct anything this legislature does," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Cumberland Democrat.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, agreed.

"I don't want to stifle people working together on issues, but unless the legislature has its thumbprint on an agreement, I don't see how this is an agreement," the Baltimore County Democrat said.

Of specific bills, lobbyists said the two sides plan to support legislation that would prevent HMOs from penalizing doctors who request that new mothers spend an extra day in the hospital.

They also agreed to support a bill requiring HMOs to pay for a hospital emergency room visit if the patient had threatening symptoms.

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