WASHINGTON – Expanding a federal health care program to cover low-income parents, not just their children, will be among the top issues for state legislatures nationwide next year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Maryland, state lawmakers will be trying to extend the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to the parents of eligible children, said Delegate John Adams Hurson, D-Montgomery, at an NCSL news conference Tuesday.
Broadening SCHIP is “a way of getting at the insured problem with a big, fat partner who’s got some dollars in his pocket,” said Hurson, who also is helping to guide NCSL federal policy.
It’s a plan with support from Maryland’s legislative leaders, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, who spoke about it at a recent Montgomery County delegation meeting.
The federal government will match every Maryland dollar with two federal dollars, for a total of $120 million going to cover almost 60,000 Marylanders without health insurance, Taylor said.
Today, the Medicaid program in Maryland only covers those who make up to 50 percent of the federal poverty level, or $125 a week, said Taylor. This measure would raise that to 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
At the NCSL news conference, Hurson, who is Maryland House majority leader, said “This is something the federal government is already giving us.”
However, Hurson said, the state should wait to see what federal action is taken on other health care programs before crafting new solutions.
State governments also will look at cost and access issues for prescription medication, according to the NCSL state legislative forecast and state health priorities survey released Tuesday.
Drug cost and access for seniors was one of the dominant themes of the presidential election this year. The need for such drug coverage is particularly acute in Maryland, where only one health maintenance organization will provide prescription drug coverage for Medicare in the new year.
One solution to the medications problem – teaming up with other states to buy drugs in bulk – was not an initiative that Hurson thought would work well, although he was supportive of expanding pharmacy benefits through a waiver program, as is done in at least one other state.
Medical record confidentiality, nursing home staff wage increases, nurse staffing ratios, rural health and tobacco prevention efforts, also turned up as significant issues on the NCSL survey.
Regardless of the issue discussed, every proposal was colored by the NCSL’s belief that states play an integral role in the creation of legislative policy.
The “devolution of authority from the federal to the state level” is appropriate, said NCSL President Jim Costa, because “more and more these days we are finding that the state legislatures are where the action is.”