Bill to expand open-heart programs is still alive

Measure thought dead gets new life in hopes of compromise with Senate

March 27, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A bill that would expand the number of hospitals in Maryland that can perform open heart surgery, pronounced dead late Friday, remained on life support last night after coming back from the legislative graveyard on Saturday.

The legislation, which is being fought tenaciously by hospitals that already have open-heart programs, was killed on a 15-5 vote in the House Environmental Matters Committee on Friday.

On Saturday, a report was distributed on the House floor listing the legislation under those receiving an unfavorable report - the legislative equivalent of an obituary.

But minutes later, in a highly unusual move, the report was pulled back and a second one was issued that omitted the bill.

The General Assembly's Web site, which had listed the bill as dead, was updated to show it was still alive.

Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, the bill's House sponsor, said committee Chairman Ron Guns agreed to pull back the negative report after being reminded that he had agreed to hold the bill while Dewberry tried to negotiate a compromise with a powerful Senate committee chairman.

"I asked Guns and he had simply forgotten," said Dewberry, who as speaker pro tem is a member of the House leadership.

Dewberry, a Baltimore County Democrat, said Guns agreed to inform Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell that the bill was not definitively dead in the House and that his panel would consider any legislation that the Senate might decide to send over.

"It's one of those things that's dead but not dead in his committee," Dewberry said. "It's not dead-dead, as we say down here."

Guns, a Cecil County Democrat, essentially confirmed Dewberry's account.

Dewberry said he will seek to amend the Senate bill to drastically limit the number of new open heart programs that could be added. He said his compromise would allow one or two new programs in the Baltimore area and one or two new programs in the Washington area.

The original version of the legislation would have let any hospital that could meet the licensing requirements start such a program. The hospitals with existing programs warned that such an expansion could siphon business away from their institutions and hurt the quality of care.

Open-heart programs exist at five hospitals in the Baltimore area, three in Washington's Maryland suburbs and one each on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland.

Dewberry said the metropolitan Baltimore hospitals most likely to benefit from the proposed compromise are St. Agnes - an institution for which he is a passionate advocate - Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Bromwell, who has been wary about passing the bill, could not be reached to comment.

The compromise offer is a long shot at this point in the session, which ends in two weeks. But Guns said you can never really tell. "This is getting close to Easter, when there are resurrections," he said.

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