Health Care at Any Cost?

October 21, 1993

Due to inaccurate information supplied by the Department o Personnel, the Oct. 21 editorial on state health insurance contained an erroneous figure. State workers in the preferred provider plan must pay $15 per visit, not $10 as stated. Also, any visits to doctors outside the plan cost preferred provider members $20.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Some 58,000 current and retired state workers are furious at the Schaefer administration. Their gold-plated health insurance

program is in jeopardy because of its excessive costs. The governor's advisers are anxious to find a way to get more state workers to choose a less expensive option.

What's happening in Annapolis to state government workers is no different than the situation at thousands of companies -- the skyrocketing cost of medical care is threatening to bankrupt businesses. The result: companies (and governments) are using economic pressures to prod workers into managed-care alternatives.


In the case of Bell Atlantic Corp. (parent company of C&P Telephone), for instance, switching to a managed-care health plan saved the company $125 million in 1992, but not without a strike by workers over the health-care change.

In the case of Maryland state government, persuading workers to shift from a popular top-of-the-line Blue Cross plan to a less costly plan (either one with deductibles or one of six different managed-care plans) would save $40 million this year. Unless the preferred provider plan is reined-in, finding money for employee raises in 1994 (there hasn't been one in four years) could prove impossible.

Nearly two-thirds of eligible state workers are in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield preferred provider plan. And no wonder: It is a Cadillac in the health insurance field. If you stay within the network of physicians offered by the plan, your only out-of-pocket expense is $10 per medical visit. The state picks up the entire medical bill. There is no incentive for the individual to think twice before visiting an emergency room for a sore throat, for instance. And yet the premium for this benefit is astonishingly low: $11 every two weeks for an individual and $26 every two weeks for a family of three.

Over the past few years, the state's health-care costs -- paid by taxpayers -- have soared. Since 1989, payments for state employee medical expenses have increased $163 million, or 118 percent. No wonder the Schaefer administration wants to discourage workers from signing up for the preferred provider option. It is unfortunate that hypocrites on a Senate committee, who take pride in being budget watchdogs, suddenly turned into big-spenders this week by demanding that state workers retain their expensive benefits. Re-election concerns triumphed over fiscal responsibility.

Whether we like it or not, managed care options, such as health-maintenance organizations and large medical group combines, are the wave of the future. They are the backbone of the Clinton health-care reform package soon to be unveiled in Washington. As much as Maryland state workers may wish to keep their Cadillac coverage, it just isn't financially feasible for taxpayers.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.