ANNAPOLIS – The Senate passed Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s proposal Tuesday to provide $2.4 million in grants for expanded community health centers that provide primary care to Maryland’s underserved and uninsured.
Grant money will go to new buildings and capital improvements for community health centers that meet eligibility requirements as a federally qualified health center.
These health centers qualify for federal grants for operating and capital money, including President Bush’s REACH program for underserved populations, and they cannot turn away uninsured patients.
As of September 2003, Maryland was one of only 15 states that did not provide capital grants for health centers, and Ehrlich wants to expand the centers statewide, said Henry Fawell, his spokesman.
“Governor Ehrlich recognizes the critical role these centers play in the medical care for medically underserved Marylanders,” Fawell said.
The Senate Finance Committee may take up a broader proposal later this week that includes the health center program initiative, but doesn’t have the governor’s support.
Delegate John Hurson, D-Montgomery, sponsored the more expansive bill passed by the House last week that makes major Medicaid reform, expanding coverage to parents of children in the state’s MCHIP program and increasing physician reimbursement for Medicaid patients.
Hurson’s proposal would also impose a 1 percent premium tax on HMOs, a provision Ehrlich opposes because he said the cost will likely be passed on to consumers, Fawell said.
Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, co-sponsored the Senate version of Hurson’s bill. She also supports the governor’s plan because it would benefit many people, but she said she’s not sure what opposition may lie in the Finance Committee to the Hurson bill.
With the administration lobbying for increased vehicle registration fees as a key revenue source for a transportation package, Hollinger said the HMO tax shouldn’t keep Ehrlich from supporting the expanded health care bill.
“My motto is people over pavement,” Hollinger said.
The House version passed with 86 votes, one more than is necessary to override a veto by the governor, while the governor’s more limited proposal has not received a vote in the Health and Government Operations Committee headed by Hurson.