Health care

November 09, 2006|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,Sun Reporter

While Ehrlich and the legislature wrangled over how to expand health coverage, the number of uninsured in the state rose from 547,000 in 2000 to 788,000 in the latest census bureau estimates. Now, advocates for expanded coverage say they expect the new administration will bring fresh action to provide more health coverage.

"It's a new dawn for health care reform efforts in our state," said Glenn E. Schneider, executive director of Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, a group seeking universal health coverage. The change in state administration, coupled with the election of "at least 10" new legislators who had campaigned on health issues, improves chances for expansion of insurance coverage, he said.

O'Malley offered a plan during the campaign to bring more people into the existing buying pool for small employers and to reduce the cost of policies by creating a state fund to pay for high-cost cases.

Schneider said he believes next year's legislative session could see favorable action on the "healthy Maryland initiative," supported by his group. That plan would add a dollar a pack to the cigarette tax to expand Medicaid coverage to 60,000 uninsured adults and children and to offer incentives to small businesses to provide coverage. The initiative was endorsed by many successful legislative candidates - but not by O'Malley - during the campaign.

O'Malley did support the court-blocked "Wal-Mart bill" requiring employers with more than 10,000 workers in Maryland to spend at least 8 percent of their state payroll on health coverage or pay the difference to the state. Enacted over Ehrlich's veto, it was ruled in violation of federal law and is on appeal. Schneider said his group and legislative leaders would like to try to redraft the legislation to pass court muster, but would probably wait until the appeal is decided.

Dr. Martin Wasserman, executive director of MedChi, the state medical society, said "probably the single most important issue" for his group is to change the medical liability system. After a contentious fight with Ehrlich, the legislature created a four-year state subsidy for doctor's liability insurance premiums. Wasserman said MedChi, which supported that measure, viewed this year's session as a chance to educate O'Malley and new legislators on the issue, in hopes of preparing the way for a permanent solution the next year.

M. William Salganik

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