Candidates turn to health care

Ehrlich unveils plan for working poor

O'Malley focuses on nursing shortage


The top Maryland gubernatorial candidates focused on improving the state's health care system yesterday, with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announcing a new program to expand access for the working poor and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley unveiling a plan to attract and retain nurses.

Speaking at a health clinic in Park Heights, Ehrlich announced the start of a program that will allow about 22,000 more low- to moderate-income Marylanders to get free primary health care with little additional investment from the state.

"The ability to offer primary care where it's needed in places of limited means is as good of public policy as you're going to get," the Republican governor said.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section yesterday misstated one of the eligibility requirements and the funding source for a new state Primary Adult Care program. Those who participate may not be eligible for Medicaid, which is providing half of the funding for the new program.
The Sun regrets the error.

The Primary Adult Care program, which was established by the General Assembly two years ago and approved recently by the federal government, combines money from state programs with new matching funds from Medicare. It went into effect July 1.

The state will spend about $3 million more and will get an additional $15 million in federal matching funds, said John B. Hammond, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Participants must be at least 19 years old and not eligible for Medicare. They can earn no more than 116 percent of the federal poverty level, and families of two or more must fall below the poverty level to participate.

The state estimates that about 30,000 Marylanders qualify, including 14,000 in Baltimore. About 8,000 of them participate in state health care programs and will be enrolled in the new one, said state health secretary S. Anthony McCann.

To apply for participation in the program, Marylanders can call 800-226-2142 or use the Web site

Ehrlich's Democratic rival, O'Malley, also spoke on health care yesterday, promising to address a statewide shortage of nurses by offering more scholarships.

"In our state, despite tremendous assets that we have in health care, despite the fact that we have the best hospitals in the world, we are facing a shortage of qualified nurses," O'Malley said. "We have to address this problem not only at the federal level ... but also at the state level."

It was the campaign's third installment of a health care platform that also includes allowing the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and helping small businesses pay for medical insurance.

Before announcing the nursing plan, O'Malley and his running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown, met with about a half dozen nurses at a home near Lutherville, part of the campaign's series of "kitchen table" talks.

O'Malley - who was joined and endorsed by Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski - referred to a report by the Statewide Commission on the Crisis in Nursing that predicted Maryland will be more than 17,000 nurses short by 2012.

Without offering specifics, O'Malley said his administration would expand a state nursing scholarship program administered by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005, the program - which pays tuition and living expenses for would-be nurses - helped 714 students, up from 400 the year before.

Maryland offers a separate program that pays as much as $7,500 a year to help nurses repay college loans. Nearly 200 are enrolled in that program.

"Nurses are the central core of health care," said Burt C. D'lugoff, a retired Baltimore County physician who attended the event with O'Malley. "They are the glue that keeps a hospital together."

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