Governor Tom Corbett patched together health care initiatives he’s proposed in the past, including an overhaul of the state’s Medicaid plan, and unveiled Healthy Pennsylvania last week to a spectrum of reaction.

One aspect of his plan that’s nearly certain to make it to his desk is SB 379, known as the “Apology Rule,” which will allow doctors to express remorse without it being used later in a civil suit.

Approval of other parts of Corbett’s plan isn’t so certain.

In June, the Senate approved SB 379 by a 50-0 vote. It now awaits action before the House of Representatives.

In an email, legislative counsel for the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, Mark Phenicie, wrote that the trial bar doesn’t “oppose SB 379 as it currently reads.”

Under SB 379, a “benevolent gesture” is any “action that conveys a sense of apology, explanation or compassion emanating from humane impulses.”

In an effort to reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits, more than half the states have already enacted laws excluding such actions as proof of liability, according to a sponsorship memo sent out by prime sponsor Pat Vance, R-Cumberland.

The memo also stated that studies have shown that a large percentage of patients and families may not have filed medical malpractice suits if given an explanation and an apology regarding the event.

Corbett’s office is optimistic about other aspects of the plan that rely not on legislative approval but agreement from the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.

“We found that, particularly in the last few months, HHS has been a lot more agreeable to some of our suggestions,” said Todd Shamash, Corbett’s deputy chief of staff.

One part of the plan would overhaul the state’s Medicaid program by placing the benefits under the program more in line with those in the private market. Another piece would require unemployed working-age Medicaid recipients to look for work through a state jobs program, Pennsylvania’s JobGatewaySM.

Corbett said in announcing the plan that if HHS agrees to these and other changes to Medicaid, the state would take advantage of federal funds to give 520,000 more Pennsylvanians the opportunity to enroll in private health care plans through the health insurance exchange established by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry issued a statement saying that Corbett “presented a reasoned, comprehensive proposal aimed at reforming Medicaid, strengthening workforce development opportunities and improving access to care that deserves serious consideration.”

But one conservative House member, state Representative Tim Krieger, R-Westmoreland, called it “another massive expansion of the welfare state to be funded on the backs of commonwealth taxpayers.”

“In the end it will still mean at least 500,000 — and perhaps as many as 1 million — becoming dependent upon government for their health care,” Krieger said.

For their part, Senate Democrats issued a statement saying they welcomed the discussion about health care access and affordability.

“For more than a year, Senate Democrats have been focused on expanding options and providing help for those in need of affordable health care as soon as possible,” they said in a statement. “We remain convinced that the best and most effective option is to enroll newly eligible individuals into Pennsylvania’s existing Medicaid program.”

— John L. Kennedy, for the
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