ANNAPOLIS -- Employers who offer health insurance would have to buy policies that cover child wellness services, such as immunizations, screenings and physicals, under a bill that passed the House of Delegates yesterday.
The 97-31 vote on House Bill 485 came as a flurry of health care-related bills passed the House yesterday. The unifying theme behind the bills -- which included penalties on doctors who bill for services they don't provide, and a requirement for all providers to use a single statewide billing form -- was the attempt to lower health-care costs.
Businesses have long opposed the child wellness bill as another costly mandated benefit.
But its supporters are close to winning their multiyear struggle for the legislation partly on the strength of the argument that child wellness is a benefit that actually saves money.
Supporters said every dollar spent on immunizations, for instance, saves $10 in later health-care costs.
In the past, business and insurance groups had stalled the legislation by arguing that lawmakers should wait for the end of a continuing study by the Interdepartmental Committee on Mandated Benefits. That tactic backfired this year, however, when the committee came out in favor of the benefit.
"This is a mandated benefit that in the long run, which is not very long, is in fact cost-containment," said Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany.
The House also passed a bill to require insurers to cover the costs of visits to nutritionists and dietitians, if those visits are recommended by a primary physician.
Businesses argued that this, too, was another mandated benefit, but supporters pointed to an attorney general's opinion that says the bill would merely correct insurer "discrimination" that favors physicians over nutritionists and dieticians.
Similar versions of both bills have emerged from Senate committees and await final votes in the Senate this week.
In other health-related action, the House:
* Passed HB 376, the much-compromised result of an effort to create a universal health access system in Maryland. The bill calls for a task force to draft a universal access bill by next year's session.
* Passed HB 1378, which requires all health-care providers to use one uniform claims form, which the insurance commissioner will create. All insurers and health maintenance organizations will be required to accept the form, either in paper or electronically. The Senate version of this bill also awaits final action this week.
* Passed HB 621, which penalizes providers who bill for services they didn't provide. Not only would providers have to remove the price of the item from the bill, but they would have to pay the amount to the patient who catches the error, unless it was proved to be unintentional.