Md. Medicaid expansion a success

April 15, 2010

Contrary to Mark Kilmer's op-ed ("Health reform's painful pinch for Md.," April 14), Maryland's 2007 Governor's Working Families and Small Business Health Care Coverage Act has been a great success. The measure has expanded health care to over 55,000 uninsured parents and brought Maryland from 44th to 16th in the nation in providing affordable health care coverage for lower income working adults.

We all benefit because this coverage expansion reduces the hidden health care tax that we all pay to cover the cost of the uninsured using hospital emergency rooms for their care. Gov. Martin O'Malley made sure that the health care expansion was fiscally sound by having it primarily paid for by a $1 increase in the state tobacco tax and federal matching dollars. And, the tobacco tax increase caused there to be 74 million fewer packs of cigarettes sold in our state which will save thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars from tobacco caused illness and death. This is why the 2007 law passed overwhelmingly and with substantial Republican support in the Maryland General Assembly — and why the Republican House of Delegates leadership stated during this past legislative session that they were not proposing to repeal either the health care expansion or the tobacco tax increase.

As the case of one young working family from Garrett County highlights, this success is more than just numbers. After the new Maryland health care law took effect, Crystal Moon and her husband were working but could not afford health insurance for their family. Ms Moon took her children to the local department of social services to sign them up for the state's children's health care program. There, they told her that thanks to the new state health care law, she and her husband were also eligible for coverage, and they enrolled.

At the height of flu season, Ms. Moon got sick. Rather than "sleeping it off," as she would have done had she still not had health insurance, she went to a doctor. The doctor told her that she had a very serious health condition; the doctor said that if she had not sought medical care that afternoon she would never have awoken from going home to sleep it off. When Ms. Moon came to a news conference we held with Republican Delegate Wendell Beitzell, who voted for the health care bill, she said to Delegate Beitzell and to all of us, "Thank you for saving my life." Ms. Moon's message, along with similar messages from thousands of newly insured families, can also go out to Governor O'Malley and all the Democratic and Republican Members of the General Assembly who supported the 2007 life-saving law.

The new federal health care law which Mr. Kilmer disparages will expand health care coverage to additional millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Marylanders who, like Ms. Moon, could not otherwise afford health insurance. In claiming that this expansion will increase Maryland's deficit, Mr. Kilmer fails to mention that for the first three years, the federal government will pay the full cost of the Medicaid expansion and that after that Maryland will not have to pay more than 10 percent of the cost. Maryland's Health Care For All! Coalition will suggest that Maryland pay its share with increases in the state's tobacco and alcohol taxes, which would save additional lives by reducing teen smoking and underage drinking.

We at the Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition will continue working with Governor O'Malley to build on the successes of the past few years to make sure that Maryland implements the new federal reform in a way that benefits all Marylanders by making quality health care affordable for all.

Vincent DeMarco, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.

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