ANNAPOLIS A bill to require Maryland insurers and managed care companies to pay for annual chlamydia screenings for their high-risk members is a step closer to becoming law.
The House passed the legislation Friday, 121-12. The bill now goes to a Senate committee for approval. If the bill passes and is signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, insurers would have to begin covering the screenings no later than Oct. 1, 2000.
Delegate Marilyn Goldwater, D-Montgomery, lead sponsor of the bill said she was “delighted” with the vote.
“I think the General Assembly realizes this is a problem we have to deal with,” she said. “I’m confident the Senate will also recognize the importance of passing this legislation.”
But Delegate JoAnne Parrott, R-Harford, who voted against the bill, said the legislation is a sign that “Big Brother is trying to do too much.”
“It’s just another thing to put on the books. Women can still have a chlamydia test from their doctor,” without a law requiring coverage, Parrott said.
Another opponent of the bill, Delegate Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel, said she wasn’t sold on the reason why insurers should be forced to pay for annual screenings.
“These are all common sense issues that can be dealt with by individuals. I think individuals have the right to make these kinds of decisions for themselves. The more you take rights away from people, the worse off everyone is,” Greenip said.
But Goldwater and co-sponsor Delegate Joan Pitkin, D- Prince George’s, want annual screenings performed to bring down the high rate of the disease in the state. Maryland ranks fifth in the nation for the rate of reported chlamydia cases, according to a 1997 study by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. In that year, 13,763 chlamydia cases were reported in the state for a rate of 271.4 per 100,000 population.
Chlamydia is also called the silent disease because 80 percent of women and 50 percent of men have no symptoms, according to the CDC. When left untreated, it can lead to serious consequences for women, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. The disease also can cause premature births, as well as eye disease and pneumonia in babies.
The bill requires insurers pay for screenings for women under age 20 if they are sexually active. It also would cover women at least age 20 and all men who have a prior history of sexually transmitted disease, have new or multiple sex partners or inconsistently use contraceptives.
The fact that the bill covers only select populations, and that health insurers may raise the bar on the definition of high-risk, generated more criticism for the legislation.
Goldwater has said that targeting the high-risk population for screening will be more cost effective than treating the long-term effects of chlamydia.
A financial impact study conducted by the Health Care Access and Cost Commission showed there would be a relatively low impact on insurers who covered chlamydia screenings – $1 to $3 extra for women and $1 for men.
The bill’s future looks hopeful on the Senate side, according to Senate Finance Committee Vice-Chairman Sen. Arthur Dorman, D-Prince George’s.
“I think the bill will do very well in committee,” he said. “Early detection is very important, especially with a problem like chlamydia.”