HOUSE REPUBLICANS in Annapolis have developed an alternative to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plan to extend government health care to uninsured pregnant women and children. Their proposal makes far more sense. It relies on graduated tax credits to help families afford private insurance, rather than committing taxpayers to the cost of insuring children in perpetuity.
The governor wants to extend Medicaid to families with incomes up to 200 percent of poverty -- $32,000 for families of four -- even if they have access to employer-provided insurance. A less liberal alternative from Democratic House leaders correctly encourages reliance on private-payer insurance as incomes rise above $28,800, but it, too, allows families to drop private insurance for free government benefits.
Most people support government assistance for the very needy. But families making $32,000, while not well off, aren't poor. To allow them insurance benefits at taxpayer expense would steer Maryland toward an unhealthy dependence on government. Paying for more government health care also poses serious long-term fiscal problems. The governor's plan would cost $76 million next year alone; the expense likely would escalate.
The solution proposed by House Republicans is driven by the same sound principles on which welfare reform is based: that full government support should be reserved for the very needy, that self-sufficiency should be encouraged, that public assistance should diminish as one's means increase.
The GOP plan would bar families with access to private insurance from getting free government health benefits. This is crucial. Otherwise, employers would have every incentive to stop subsidizing dependent coverage for employees and let the taxpayer pick up the bill. To help families afford private dependent coverage, Republicans suggest graduated tax credits for working families making up to 225 percent of poverty ($36,000), to be paid for monthly through a reduction in an employee's state income tax withholding. The GOP plan would help more families than the governor's.
Democrats in the House have expressed concern about saddling taxpayers with a new health-care entitlement. That's a good reason to set partisanship aside on this issue and join with Republicans in devising a responsible way to give more Maryland children health-care coverage.
Pub Date: 2/25/98