As the Senate Finance Committee prepares to hold a hearing Thursday on a bill that would create a fund to provide lifetime treatment for babies who suffer brain damage at birth, a coalition of groups working to pass the measure is releasing a poll showing widespread support for the legislation.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Finance Chairwoman Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) and Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery), would change the way hospitals and birthing centers pay for damages when they are found liable for newborn babies’ injuries.
Rocked by a court decision last year that ordered Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital Center to pay $229 million to a family whose child suffered brain damage at birth, the coalition of hospitals and professional medical societies is seeking instead to create a permanent fund that would make regular payments to aggrieved families for the duration of a child’s treatment, rather than one lump-sum award. The concept is called the Infant Lifetime Care Trust.
The hospitals have described this legislation as a way to control costs while guaranteeing that families who need help will continue to receive it. They describe it as a system that would provide families with “peace of mind” — whereas a lump-sum payment could run out.
But several plaintiffs’ attorneys are expected to line up in opposition to the legislation, suggesting that the measure could limit a family’s ability to collect medical malpractice payments.
As envisioned by the legislation, the fund would be managed by the state government, and families would still have to sue medical providers to have access to the damage payments. Hospitals and other birthing centers would make annual payments into the fund, based primarily on their size and revenues.
A poll produced for the coalition of groups supporting the bill — with the cumbersome formal name the Maryland Infant Lifetime Care Trust Funded by HSCRC [Health Service Cost Review Commission] and Maryland Patient Safety Center Duties — showed voters strongly favoring this approach to health care justice.
The poll of 504 registered voters, taken from Dec. 10-16, 2019, but just being released publicly this week, found that 79% of Marylanders support the creation of a birth injury fund. The support is across the board: 80% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans favor this approach, along with 76% of political independents.
Eighty-eight percent of African-American voters supported the legislative proposal, along with three-quarters of white voters. Regionally, support from the measure ranged from 89% in Prince George’s County to 73% in Baltimore City.
The concept polled well across gender and generational lines — though younger voters liked it better than senior citizens.
Asked whether they favored a lifetime guarantee of funding for affected families versus a one-time payment for damages, 85% of voters said they preferred that families are paid for their needs. Survey respondents also overwhelmingly favored the idea that injured families would receive fair compensation and that medical professionals and the institutions that employ them would face sufficient disciplinary measures.
The poll was conducted by Braun Research, Inc., of Princeton, N.J., for a group calling itself the Alliance for Infant Lifetime Care. It had a 4.4-point margin of error.
“The survey indicates that Marylanders have reached a clear consensus, in terms of both their values and their policy preferences,” said Paul Braun, president and founder of the polling firm.
The Alliance for Infant Lifetime Care, according to a fact sheet that the group is distributing, consists of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, GBMC Health Center, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Maryland Hospital Association, Maryland Patient Safety Center, MedChi (the Maryland Medical Society), MedStar Health, Mercy Medical Center, Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital, Total Health Care, and the University of Maryland Medical System.
The bill will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee next Monday.