Panel kills bill to expand consumer data on doctors GENERAL ASSEMBLY

March 17, 1998|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

A House of Delegates committee has killed a bill that would have greatly expanded the amount of information available to consumers about Maryland doctors.

Modeled on a Massachusetts program, the proposal would have required the state physician board to compile criminal records, malpractice settlements and hospital disciplinary actions of doctors and make them available to consumers on request.

Although the plan had support from consumer and labor unions, as well as the state Chamber of Commerce, doctors opposed it, and the state physician board said logistical problems would have made it difficult to accomplish.

The House Environmental Matters Committee rejected it unanimously Friday. The bill was a repeat attempt by its sponsor, Del. Henry B. Heller, a Montgomery County Democrat, who first introduced the proposal last year.

"I think I and probably most legislators support easy access to this information," said Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat and a committee member. "The problem with this bill is, it was just technically too complicated to enforce and would require such a diversion of resources that it would take away from the actual functions of the board."

Doctors, who agreed to endorse an amended version of the bill last year, decided instead to oppose it, saying they feared the cost of implementing it would cause large increases in their licensing fees.

According to a legislative analysis, putting the plan in place would have cost $806,000, and doctors might have seen a $44 increase in their licensing fees. The state requires physicians to renew their licenses every two years at a cost of $450 to $550.

"Until we get a resolution of how this would be paid for, we don't think this should proceed," Michael Preston, executive director of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, said of the bill.

"There's clearly momentum in the country for dissemination of information to help people choose their doctors," he said. "We're not trying to stop that. We agree that the information needs to be fair, and we think Heller's bill is basically fair-minded."

Daniel Pontious, executive director of Maryland Public Interest Research Group, was among those who had favored the bill's key provisions.

"This is a real disappointment for consumers," he said. "This bill would have made information available to consumers which could help them choose a doctor."

Heller said he plans to meet with members of the House Environmental Matters Committee, its chairman and members of the Board of Physician Quality Assurance to try to hammer out an agreeable proposal for next year.

What information should be available to consumers -- and how readily available -- became a point of debate a year ago after the state physician board announced plans to create a Web site where consumers could check malpractice, disciplinary, education and licensing records on any of the state's 22,000 licensed physicians.

Doctors objected to key parts of the plan, saying that posting formal malpractice and disciplinary complaints that had not been resolved could tarnish the reputations of doctors who were wrongly accused. The records are public information, but can take weeks to obtain by mail.

Last fall, the state board decided to go forward with a smaller Web site that shields from public view the most controversial of the public records, while making them available to hospitals.

At the Web site (found at www.docboard.org), consumers can learn if a doctor is licensed, has faced disciplinary action, and where he or she went to medical school. As of this month, consumers also can read the text of disciplinary orders against a doctor.

The board does not conduct criminal checks or gather malpractice settlement information and said the state does not give it authority to access that information.

While Heller's bill would have expanded the amount of information available from the board, it would have prohibited posting malpractice and disciplinary charges on the Web site.

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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