Brown: Health Enterprise Zones are fiscally and socially responsible

March 07, 2012

Stuart Butler's op-ed ("An enterprising approach to health," Feb. 29) on what our proposed Health Enterprise Zones (HEZs) can learn from urban "economic" enterprise zones is a valuable critique. His focus on incentives, innovation and community partnerships echoes the strengths of our legislation, the Maryland Health Improvement and Disparities Reduction Act. Like economic enterprise zones, we intend to blanket a distressed community with incentives that draw in the expert people and quality services needed to address a specific problem: health disparities among underserved communities.

To do this, we need primary care doctors and nurses, electronic records systems and equipment, among other tools. Our proposal draws these assets into underserved neighborhoods with loan repayment assistance, tax credits, grants and health information technology. And it encourages partnerships by focusing zones around community-based organizations or local governments. When combined, these tools will help us saturate underserved communities with primary care providers and health care services, ensuring healthier Marylanders who live a better quality of life.

Every Marylander, of every race, ethnicity and nationality, in every part of our state, should have the chance to live a healthy life and to maximize their contributions to society. Addressing health disparities is clearly a moral imperative, but it's also fiscally responsible. Communities in Maryland without basic health care services have the highest rates of chronic and often preventable illness, such as hypertension, asthma, and diabetes. Treated too late or in emergency rooms, these conditions cause millions in avoidable costs.

Adding Health Enterprise Zones to our strategy is the kind of creative thinking for which Maryland is nationally known. The O'Malley-Brown Administration has been tackling health care challenges with vision and resourcefulness from day one. Maryland has a responsibility to continue leading the way, and creating innovative HEZs in underserved communities will be yet another sign of our forward momentum.

Anthony G. Brown, Annapolis

The writer, a Democrat, is Maryland's lieutenant governor.

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