ANNAPOLIS- The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene collected about $18 million more in fees from health-care practitioners than it needed to regulate them over the past two years.
The 18 regulatory boards had a combined surplus of about $9.5 million in 1996 and $8.5 million in 1997, said Jim Johnson, director of budget management for the health department.
“They’re ripping us off. There’s no reason for them to charge us what they do,” said Dr. Joseph Berkow, a Sinai Hospital eye surgeon, and a member of the legislative relations committee for the Maryland Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons.
But members of the boards — which oversee everything from physicians to morticians — said they are not overcharging. Some years they have surpluses, they said, and some years they have deficits and eventually it balances out.
The fees are set by the individual boards, which use the money to license health care professionals, set policy, monitor education requirements and hold disciplinary hearings. They range from a $30 annual fee for nurses to a $750 biennial license fee for podiatrists.
All the boards but one rely solely on the fees to fund their work.
Johnson said the department has taken “a number of steps” to balance the funds in recent years, including reducing or waiving certain fees.
“I think the surplus is going to gradually decrease over the next few years,” said Johnson.
But Del. Michael Gordon, D-Montgomery, said the department has consistently run a surplus and the boards “have done nothing to reduce their fees.
“They’re charging the people they regulate too much money,” said Gordon, who has sponsored a bill to take the surplus fees and put them in a trust fund for the developmentally disabled.
He said the federal government would provide two dollars for every dollar generated by such a fund, which would complement the governor’s plan to reduce the list of 5,300 people waiting for services for the developmentally disabled.
Glendening last month proposed a $68 million, five-year plan to get services to people on that waiting list.
Gordon said another goal of his proposed fund is to force the regulatory boards to lower their fees. No hearing has been set for his bill.
But J. Michael Compton, executive director of the Board of Physician Quality Assurance, said his board will have to raise fees if money is taken from its fund as Gordon proposes.
Because licenses are up for renewal every other year, Compton said, revenue from fees can vary by about $1 million per year. Although the board has about $3.7 million in its fund now, he noted that it had to dip into the fund last year because it collected about $1 million less than needed.
Compton compared it to getting a paycheck one week and using it over the course of the next two weeks instead of using it all at once. “We eventually will spend it,” he said.
Currently, surplus fees by law go into a fund for the boards that is administered by the comptroller.