ANNAPOLIS — Del. Donald B. Elliott had advocated strategically identifying and eliminating wasteful government spending, even before it became the new rallying cry among legislators.
In the late 1980s, Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, supported a bill that would have created a panel of business leaders to uncover inefficiencies in government. It was defeated repeatedly.
Not until last year, in the midst of a recession, did a diluted version of the bill pass.
In hindsight, Republican legislators, including Elliott, and other fiscal conservatives have rebuked their more free-spending colleagues with a resounding, "I told you so." But Elliott also has taken legislative action to back up his criticisms.
He has introduced a bill that would require the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to recover "durable" medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes and crutches, from Maryland Medical Assistance Program recipients. The equipment then could be distributed to future clients.
Now, even though the agency informs the low-income recipients that the equipment remains property of DHMH and requests them to contact the department when the equipment is no longer needed, no method is established to recover the items.
Elliott estimates the legislation could save Maryland about $1 million annually in new equipment purchases. The House Republican Caucus listed the measure as a cost-cutting recommendation in its plan to balance the state's fiscal 1993 budget without a tax increase.
Lawrence Payne, director of DHMH's Medical Care Compliance Administration, said the agency will support the legislation at a hearing before the House Environmental Matters Committee today. However, he said it is uncertain whether such a measure would result in savings.
"Conceptually it makessense, but we don't know how much it would cost to go through that process," he said. "If it's cost-effective, we'll do it. It's a good idea."
The agency plans to contact other states to see how they recover equipment for their Medicaid programs and to consult a national medical equipment supply association, he said.
An analysis outlining how the legislation would affect state revenues had not been prepared as of yesterday.
DHMH has tried to recover equipment in the past, and even had contracts with outside organizations, but the effort"didn't meet with a great measure of success," Payne said. The contracts were too short-lived to analyze costs and savings, he said.
Elliott said he recognized the potential for savings when agency officials discussed the program in House committee meetings last year.
The governor proposed cutting the entire $2.2 million durable medicalequipment program in October to reduce the deficit. The proposal later was rescinded.
"That's when I thought to put the bill in to seeif the state could get some money back," said Elliott.
Elliott said the bill gives DHMH flexibility to respond.
"Sometimes you haveto put a bill in to call attention to something, even if it's not passed," he said. "The department may decide to do it in-house. You still win in the end."
The bill would require the agency to recover the equipment "to the extent feasible and appropriate."
If the equipment recovered is not in suitable condition to be re-used by anotherprogram recipient, DHMH could give it to any organization that wouldrepair the equipment and provide it at no charge to other needy people.
Elliott suggested that local civic and service organizations could participate in the program.