Maryland is unlikely to adopt a single-payer health care system, but the time is right for legislators to take another look at health care reform, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said yesterday.
Taylor participated in a panel discussion convened by Maryland Business for Responsive Government. Much of the discussion was devoted to attacks on a single-payer plan, under which the state would pay for all health care, including covering those now uninsured.
A single-payer plan has been floated by Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, a group that has attracted broad support in the year since it was formed to push affordable health coverage for everyone in the state.
The General Assembly studied and "overwhelmingly turned down" a single-payer plan about a decade ago, Taylor said, and he doesn't believe that opinion has shifted drastically since. "We'll never get 100 percent coverage, but we can get close, and I think we're going to get there incrementally," the speaker said.
Taylor said he will call on legislative committees "to go back to the drawing board and get very serious about what we can do, and not just be satisfied with destroying the viability of single-payer." He said after the meeting that he is not sure that reform can be accomplished in one year, but that it is important to begin the effort. "Timing is everything, and I think the stars have come into the right setting," he said.
Two of the panelists called for free-market alternatives to the single-payer idea. Thomas J. DiLorenzo, a professor of economics at Loyola College, said a single-payer plan would lead to higher taxes that would drive away business and state-set rates that would drive away the best doctors. "This would be a state of Virginia economic development plan par excellence," he said.
Robert E. Moffit, deputy director for domestic policy for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, quoted writer P. J. O'Rourke: "If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it's free."
Robert O. C. Worcester, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, said he thinks that a single-payer plan might be passed in Maryland. "The legislature has drifted leftward," he said. "Maryland has increasingly become a laboratory for onerous business legislation to be exported to other states."
Worcester said yesterday's meeting represented an effort to alert business to the issue and to build a coalition.
Indeed, the panel represented a range of opinion, with Moffit and DiLorenzo sharply criticizing the Maryland regulatory system, of which fellow-panelist Taylor is a prime author.
Another panelist, T. Michael Preston, executive director of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, the state medical society, said he thinks the single-payer plan is a "straw man," and even Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative "at the end of the day won't be talking about single-payer."
Vincent DeMarco, executive director of the citizens' initiative group, said talk of socialized medicine is "a red herring." While it believes in "guaranteeing quality, affordable health care to all Marylanders," he said, his group is not committed to a single-payer scheme.