The book on health care

Originally published in the Daily Record

MPPI in the News Dori Berman Apr 21, 2005

Institute offers a take on Md. policy

In the wake of a volatile legislative session, the Maryland Public Policy Institute released a book this week examining Maryland health care policy and suggesting policy solutions to the state’s health care woes.

The release comes just one week after the end of the session, which included passage of controversial legislation mandating Maryland’s largest companies to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health insurance, and the failure of further medical malpractice reform pushed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"Health Care in Maryland: A Diagnosis" is the culmination of 18 months of work by the institute, a market-oriented think tank, in collaboration with several health care experts from across the country. The institute’s president, Christopher Summers, hatched the idea for the book in order to provide legislators with an all-inclusive information source on health care policy.

“Health care is such a complex issue and there are so many topics that fall under health care. I don’t really think the state lawmakers have enough information at hand,” he said.

Summers called the health care mandate bill, also known as the “Wal-Mart bill” for the lone company that will have to change its policies to comply, “one of the most horrific pieces of legislation I’ve ever seen drafted out of the General Assembly.”

The book examines issues associated with Medicaid, prescription drugs, mental health and — by far the biggest chapter — medical malpractice. Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, R-Harford and Baltimore County — an anesthesiologist who argued against the payroll tax just weeks ago on the senate floor — wrote the book’s introduction.

“What’s frustrating to me — as a health care professional I’m obviously interested in health care policy — but I find some legislators are willing to make these decisions without doing the background research to come to understand it,” said Harris. He called passage of the payroll tax a knee-jerk response to the lack of health insurance in Maryland.

“Short term that may sound good, but long term that may defeat the purpose of encouraging businesses to come to Maryland and provide good benefits to their employees,” he said.

Some 13.2 percent of Marylanders were without insurance from 2001 to 2003, compared to 15.1 percent nationally, according to the Census Bureau.

The book argues that with some suggested policy shifts, “Maryland could become a health care powerhouse for the entire region and possibly the world.”

Suggestions include reducing the number of mandated benefits that insurance companies must offer, and instead allowing citizens to decide which benefits to purchase. It also suggests eliminating the Certificate of Need process to allow for construction of more facilities and therefore more services, and enacting real Medicaid reform.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said the book alone will not solve any problems. DeMarco was the chief proponent of the payroll tax and other bills concerning health care.

“We strongly encourage them to turn their ideas into proposals that we can discuss and we would be happy to talk to them,” DeMarco said of the opponents to his bill.

But Summers argued DeMarco’s successful measure actually does little to expand health care coverage in Maryland.

“There are health care activists who have worked hard to advance this bill but not shown much interest in other measures that would lower insurance rates,” he said. “Attacking one employer is not going to resolve the problem.”