ANNAPOLIS -- A January summit conference raised the issue of health care reform with sound and fury. But at the end of the General Assembly's regular session last night, the legislature had little to show for its efforts to make health care more available and affordable to Marylanders.
"I am disappointed," said Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., the Allegany County Democrat who led the drive for health care reform this year.
The failure to enact meaningful reforms was blamed by observers on bickering between House and Senate committees, inability to accommodate competing economic interests within the health care system, and ultimately, on biting off more than the legislature could chew.
"All this reflects the national debate" on health care reform "and the difficult nature of trying to get anything done," said Miles Cole, a lobbyist with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Taylor, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, had persuaded his panel to co-sponsor three possible revisions of the state's health care system, including a single-payer Canadian-style plan and a "consumer choice" tax incentive option aimed at providing universal access to health care.
Those proposals, like most other health-care legislation, failed to pass even one house of the General Assembly. The House abandoned hopes for a systemic change this year and opted for a bill to create a task force charged with creating a consumer choice universal health plan by next year. But even that bill, heavily amended by the Senate, did not pass by the midnight adjournment.
The next best hope for business was a bill known as "small group market reform," again sponsored by the Economic Matters Committee. The bill would have required insurers to offer coverage to all companies with two to 25 employees, and would have limited the price differentials among small companies.
The Senate committee yesterday killed the bill, fearing it would raise insurance costs for many companies by as much as 25 percent.
The legislature did pass a bill requiring all insurers to accept one claim form, to be designed by the insurance commissioner. The bill is aimed at reducing administrative costs.
And all insurers that offer health coverage must include preventive benefits for children, such as immunizations and checkups, under a bill that cleared the legislature.
"All in all our expectations were not met for reducing costs and increasing access," Mr. Cole said.