Ryan budget would hurt Maryland

May 09, 2011

Contrary to the assertion of Michael Cannon in his recent op-ed ("Paul Ryan's Medicaid block grants: good for Maryland," May 4), converting the Medicaid program to a block grant would be extremely harmful to Maryland, its residents, and its economy. Block-granting Medicaid is a way for the federal government to shirk its financial responsibility to the state, and Gov. Martin O'Malley wisely advocated on our behalf to preserve adequate funding for these programs which serve hundreds of thousands of our state's children, parents, seniors and people with disabilities.

Block-granting Medicaid would be a radical change, especially for a state where health care is a very important sector of our economy. Instead of covering a fixed share of a state's Medicaid costs, the federal government would write one check each year, thereby greatly reducing the amount of money it gives to Maryland. The cut in funding will grow bigger and bigger every year — amounting to a cut of about $14 billion over 10 years. Capping federal funding would put us at risk if health care costs go up. Maryland will have to make up the difference without any federal help. This would put Maryland at a real financial risk, especially in the event of another recession or a costly natural disaster like an epidemic, "snow-apocalypse" or hurricane.

Block-granting Medicaid is not a real or balanced solution to the budget problem. It would take vital services away from Maryland's most vulnerable populations and leave the state with a sicker, less productive population. Maryland would have to pay more or drastically cut benefits or coverage when we need it the most.

Thanks to Governor O'Malley's leadership, Maryland expanded Medicaid coverage to parents in 2008. This move helped our state weather the recession better than others in states by spurring the health care sector of our economy and helping families stay healthy when they lost their jobs and their job-based insurance. This move was funded by a popular public health measure which increased the state tobacco tax by $1. I understand that Mr. Cannon's op-ed was sent to several newspapers across the country by Kaiser News Service — I would argue that we here in Maryland, led by our great public health governor, know far better what is best for our state and where we stand on this issue.

Suzanne R. Schlattman, Baltimore

The writer is community outreach coordinator of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative Education Fund.

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