Group to offer $15.5 billion proposal for universal health care in Md.

November 12, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

Health care advocates plan to unveil today an ambitious $15.5 billion proposal for universal health care in Maryland that would increase payroll taxes to pay for coverage for low-income residents and create a quasi-governmental insurance pool.

The Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, with health policy experts from the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, crafted the proposal. The groups plan to build a coalition of labor unions, faith groups and community organizations. Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat, said he will introduce the bill in the legislative session that begins in January.

But such a proposal faces an uphill battle, since State House leaders are confronting budget shortfalls and some policymakers are talking about rolling back previous health care expansions.

In a statement, the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small companies, called the plan "a massive state takeover of the health care industry." The group said higher payroll taxes would hurt a weakened economy and drive businesses out of Maryland.

But advocates were undeterred.

"We know it's going to take a while for this to become a reality," said Vincent DeMarco, head of the health initiative.

Hubbard said that pieces of the proposal could be passed over several years. The last expansion, which made more Marylanders eligible for Medicaid and created insurance subsidies for small businesses, was scaled back before winning approval.

The latest proposal would create a health insurance pool for coverage of individuals and employees of small businesses, offer reinsurance that covers high-cost care, further extend Medicaid eligibility and subsidize premiums for low-income residents.

The total cost to the state was estimated at $15.5 billion over five years.

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