Maryland Citizens Health Initiative Unveils New Plan


BALTIMORE (Nov. 12, 2008)—A Maryland nonprofit group unveiled a universal health insurance program Wednesday to strong support from proponents, even with a controversial payroll tax attachment.

The "Health Care for All!" plan would be good for individuals and small businesses by letting them provide affordable and accessible health insurance, supporters of the proposal said.

The Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative held a news conference at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Its initiative is designed to expand on progress made with the Working Families and Small Business Health Care Coverage Act of 2007, which increased Medicaid funding and was supported by Gov. Martin O'Malley, initiative officials said.

The legislation produced the Medical Assistance for Families Program, which was effective July 1. It provides low-cost prescriptions, emergency visits, doctor visits, and X-ray screenings, according to the state's health department Web site.

More than 18,000 Marylanders are insured under the new program, but more work needs to be done, initiative President Vincent DeMarco said.

Health Care for All! Would also expand the Medicaid eligibility of individuals who make about $30,000 a year, or about 200 percent of the federal poverty line, as well as for a family of four making $35,000 a year, DeMarco said.

The plan is expected to cost $15.5 billion between the years 2010 to 2014, according to the report.

The plan has the support of Naylor's Hardware President Jan Naylor. The number of insured employees at her Oakland appliance store has decreased from 68 in 2006 to 41 this year because the company can't afford its share of the costs.

Despite operating a small business in "fiscally conservative" Garrett County, Naylor said some of her best workers have left for better health care coverage, including one who left several weeks ago to train as a prison security guard.

Employees at Alexis Coates' dEVNIX Inc. data management now have to pay for their health care out of pocket, Coates said.

If the "Health Care for All!" plan does not pass by the first or second quarter of 2009, the company may have to work offshore, said Coates.

A Technical Advisory Committee Report calls for the creation of a "Maryland Health Insurance Pool" that combines small group and individual markets in order to make insurance more affordable."

The "Health Care for All!" plan proposal is also about prevention, and one way to finance the costs is to increase the alcohol and cigarette taxes, DeMarco said.

Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative is also calling for a 2 percent payroll tax, so that big businesses will also pay their fair share, DeMarco said.

Overall, a small business's employee health care costs under the new plan would be reduced by 16 percent, with fewer insurer overhead costs, according to data provided by the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative.

A committee of experts from institutions such as Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Law School spent several years putting together a plan beginning in 1999, DeMarco said.

"Health Care for All!" is economically feasible because it would save money for businesses, provide universal coverage and keep jobs in the state, said Rebecca Colt-Ferguson, a school nurse who is the legislative committee co-chairwoman for the Maryland Nurses Association.

Opposition to the 2 percent payroll tax has been the only criticism she's heard, Colt-Ferguson said.

There are 194 businesses and organizations endorsing the "Health Care for All!" plan, according to a press release, and the goal is to now get more businesses to across the state to support the plan, DeMarco said. The organization hopes to gain more endorsements to increase its chances of passing in the General Assembly in 2009.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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