Backers Of Health Care Access Claim Success

December 23, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Proponents of a program to expand access to health care made the last stop on a statewide tour promoting the initiative at Northwest Hospital Center in Randallstown on Tuesday. They recounted several stories of the more than 52,000 adults enrolled in the Health Care for All program.

"This means people are getting primary care that is keeping them out of hospital emergency rooms," said Del. Dan Morhaim, an emergency medicine physician who pushed for the bill. "It might cost this program 50 cents a day for blood pressure medicine, but that is preventing a $20,000 medical bill for a stroke."

Nearly 7,000 adults in Baltimore County, the most of any jurisdiction in the state except Baltimore City, qualified for free coverage as a result of the state's expanded Medical Assistance for Families Program. More than twice as many adults have qualified for the program as officials anticipated when the bill passed in 2007. A family of four with an annual income less than $25,600, for example, is eligible.

"We are celebrating the numbers who now have full coverage," said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative. "There is room for more to enroll, and we are trying to reach them."

The program, funded by a $1 increase in the cigarette tax, has pushed Maryland to the forefront in health care for adults, taking the state from 44th to 16th in the nation for the coverage it provides, DeMarco said. Morhaim, whose efforts led to the Governor's Working Families and Small Business Health Care Coverage Act of 2007, said the program is helping the economy, particularly companies dealing with spiraling costs of providing health care to employees.

"Insurance is all about getting a big pool of people and spreading the cost risks," he said. "The more people you have in the pool, the less expensive it is for everybody."

Those with questions about eligibility for the program should call 800-456-8900. City residents can inquire at 311 and Baltimore County residents can call 211.

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