WASHINGTON – Maryland is taking a creative approach to the health care crisis, while managing a slightly higher percentage of uninsured, according to a report released Thursday by a national group.
Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois are working toward innovative solutions for providing health care coverage to their residents, according to a report on state health care by the State Coverage Initiatives program, funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The report, which takes a snapshot of state-by-state health care in 2005, contains a comprehensive literature review of health care investigations, U.S. Census Bureau data and summaries of state reports.
“Problems of the uninsured are much more immediate at the state level,” said Alice Burton, director of the State Coverage Initiatives and one of the report authors.
“States are continuing to be on the front line of this issue. They’re feeling the pressure,” Burton said.
The report comes out at time when Maryland and national health care is in flux — Medicare Part D is leaving some disabled and senior citizens without medication and the General Assembly’s Wal-Mart law is making national headlines. The law forces large companies to help pay for employee health care, but in Maryland this affects only Wal-Mart.
Last week, the Maryland General Assembly overrode a veto of the Wal-Mart bill, which requires Maryland companies with more than 10,000 employees to spend 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits.
“Maryland is taking a creative and different approach,” Burton said. But she added that the problem will probably eventually need federal intervention because it is too large for a state-by-state approach.
“Last year was a great year overall in Maryland for health care,” Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Health Care Initiative. DeMarco called the passage of the Wal-Mart bill, “a great victory.”
“Time will tell what effect (the bill) will have on the uninsured,” said Nancy Fiedler, senior vice president of communications for the Maryland Hospital Association.
Other states are also trying inventive approaches. Massachusetts is considering a “pay or play” mandate to require even small companies to contribute to employee health plans. Illinois is working to insure all children, even those who live above the poverty line and are often not eligible for state-assisted insurance, by allowing higher-income families to buy into state plans.
In Maryland alone, 14 percent of state residents are uninsured, 2 percent less than the national average, according to the report’s statistics.
That number is up slightly from 13.2 percent reported uninsured from the 2005 report.
“Maryland is one of the wealthiest states, so that’s a contextual issue,” Burton said. “It’s too many.”
“Being uninsured does not mean you’re poor or lazy,” said Sarah Penna, project director of Faces of Maryland’s Uninsured. “You can have a job, you can pay your taxes and yet you still aren’t insured.”
“It really sucks,” said Rich Stockton of Westminster, Maryland, an uninsured construction worker.
Stockton broke his back in a car accident in 1999 and now has to hire construction workers to do his business for him. “I just don’t feel like a man,” he said.
“I go through jobs like I go through T-shirts. I’ve been trying to work, but I can’t fulfill my job duties,” he said.
Stockton, who still has hospital bills from the accident and resulting surgery, thinks everyone in the United States should be insured.
“If they get the medical care they need, they can go out and pay more taxes,” he said.