ANNAPOLIS Prompted by constituent complaints about managed care and the rising number of Marylanders without health insurance, two lawmakers have introduced legislation to design a universal health care plan for the state.
“We dare not sit by and do nothing while access to care erodes and the ranks of the uninsured balloon. At the very least we should look into universal health care as a health care delivery option,” said Delegate Marilyn Goldwater, D-Montgomery, who introduced the bill in the House.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, has introduced similar legislation, which will be heard Wednesday by the Senate Finance Committee.
“I don’t think we should have two or three different health systems where people get good care, bad care or no care at all,” Pinsky said. “The plan will allow us to move forward to advocate for a system that is right for Maryland and insures everyone.”
Goldwater and Pinsky have said they recognize that the cost of establishing such a system is a key issue the commission and advisory panel must address in their plan.
There are more than 677,000 people in Maryland without health coverage, 60 percent of whom are employed, according to U.S. Census Bureau information. Between 1989 and 1997, the percentage of uninsured Marylanders rose from 10.2 percent to 13.4 percent.
Nationally, 43 million Americans did not have health insurance in 1997, up from 37 million in 1992.
Rising costs of health insurance are to blame for the increase in uninsured persons, Pinsky said, because the costs are out-of-reach for many working-class poor.
Both bills would direct the Health Care Access and Cost Commission and a nine-member advisory board, appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, to design a universal health care plan for the state.
The advisory board would be made up of representatives from medicine, labor unions, local public health departments, economists specializing in health care issues, the business community, the Maryland Nurses Association, and individuals with disabilities.
The commission and advisory board would be charged with gathering information on single-pay health care systems in other countries or states. The panels would then devise a plan with various options that address affordability, accessibility, a simplified administrative method and delivery of quality health care. The plan is due by Dec. 1, 2000.
“We want them to bring us back some models and some ideas of how to finance this kind of system,” Goldwater said.
Both lawmakers say they are optimistic the bill will pass. Bruce Lowman, treasurer of the Health Care for All Coalition, remains hopeful as well. Changing to a single-pay system for health care, Lowman believes, would not only extend care to those who don’t have it now, but would cost less in the long run.
“Under a universal system, insurance companies would be eliminated and that eliminates 35 percent of overhead costs,” he said. A universal health system “is a good and necessary thing. It means everyone would be equally and completely covered, whether you’re the governor of the state or a homeless person on the street.”
But single pay is not for everyone. Debbie Rivkin, lobbyist for the League of Life and Health Insurers, said the organization supports increasing access, but rejects the concept of universal care.
She adds that if Maryland were to adopt such a system, residents from neighboring states would flock here and dramatically drive up costs.
“We think competition and choice is the best system for Maryland,” Rivkin said.
But Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, a co-sponsor of the House bill, said she believes that because there have been so many increasing problems with managed care, people may be ready for the idea of universal care.
“Are they there yet? I don’t know,” she said. “But I don’t have much doubt that we’ll get there soon.”