Ads target health care

Radio spot notes insurance disparity for blacks, Latinos

`We are reaching out'

Group uses grant to campaign for universal coverage

January 22, 2001|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

With a hefty new grant in hand, a group pushing for universal health care in Maryland is launching the latest leg of its campaign today, hoping to draw African-Americans and Latinos to the cause.

The Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, a Baltimore-based nonprofit group, will begin airing a 60-second radio advertisement on three local stations, WWIN, WCAO and WOLB.

Listeners will hear Bishop Douglas I. Miles quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking."

Miles goes on to say, "In our state, 700,000 people, including tens of thousands of children, have no health insurance at all, and African-Americans are almost twice as likely to be uninsured."

The ad is part of a statewide effort to underscore that having no insurance exacerbates racial disparities, said Vincent DeMarco, executive director of the Health Initiative. It will be paid for by the group's biggest grant: $175,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

According to U.S. Census data, nationally, blacks are more than twice as likely to be uninsured than whites. Hispanics are about three times as likely to be uninsured.

"Because of those numbers, we are reaching out to those organizations and people who have the most pressing need for health care," DeMarco said.

One such group is Associated Black Charities in Baltimore, which will be host of a news conference by the Health Initiative today.

"When you look at low-paying jobs that don't have health care benefits, you're looking at African-Americans," said the organization's executive director, Donna Jones Stanley.

But DeMarco stressed that the campaign is statewide and color blind. After about two years of organizing, the Health Initiative has support from more than 1,000 organizations, including churches, small businesses, radio stations, labor unions and women's groups.

"Virtually every single Marylander is touched by this issue one way or the other," said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner and president of the Health Initiative.

That's what gives DeMarco and Beilenson hope that they can prevail over an issue that invites hostility -- and often cries of "socialized medicine" -- from some powerful politicians and interest groups because of costs.

The Health Initiative plans to put forward universal health care legislation in the 2002 General Assembly session.

Although the bill is far from drafted, DeMarco said it would include a combination of state-funded insurance and expanded private insurance.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. is backing a bill this year that would extend state health insurance coverage to 60,000 of the so-called working poor. The $40 million price tag has led Gov. Parris N. Glendening to react coolly to the proposal.

The governor has said he would rather the federal government pay for such coverage.

The Health Initiative's proposal is guaranteed to invite fierce resistance from tobacco companies (fearful a cigarette-tax increase would be offered as a way to pay for the plan), insurance companies and other businesses.

But DeMarco's successful track record lobbying for other bills -- such as stricter gun-control laws and an increase in the state tobacco tax -- means his opponents are likely to take him seriously.

In addition, his cause appears to be overwhelmingly supported by many Marylanders. In a poll for The Sun and other news organizations released this month, 58 percent of respondents said they approved of using state money to provide health coverage to any Marylander without private insurance.

DeMarco noted that when he rallied for gun control, 160 organizations signed on. For the tobacco tax, 360 organizations gave their support.

"For this issue, we've got over 1,000 and more coming," he said. "We hope this will become one of the most important -- if not the most important -- issue in the 2002 election."

In Annapolis

Today's highlights:

8 p.m. Senate meets, Senate chamber.

8 p.m. House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

5 p.m. Senate Executive Nominations Committee hearing on judicial appointments, Room 2 East, Miller Senate Office Building.

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