BALTIMORE – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martin O’Malley outlined his healthcare plan for the state Thursday, vowing to reduce the ranks of uninsured citizens, restore state funding to health programs and make Maryland a national leader in healthcare.
“There is no magic, elusive single answer . . .It’s many different answers,” he said. “We can take responsibility and we can find many of the missing pieces of the healthcare puzzle even if we don’t have a federal government that is committed to finding solutions.”
Speaking at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, O’Malley said as governor he would build on drug treatment programs, community health centers and other health initiatives he has pursued as mayor of Baltimore.
Before a crowd of about 350 students and faculty members, he pointed to lead poisoning testing for children and syphilis screening at the city’s Central Booking and Intake Center as examples of the proactive measures in preventive care that have successfully combated some of the city’s most problematic health issues.
O’Malley said that under his Republican opponent, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, healthcare in Maryland is “actually growing weaker instead of stronger” and promised to “stem that back-tide and start to move forward again.” Spokesmen for the Ehrlich campaign did not return phone calls seeking a response.
Describing himself at one point as a “pragmatic-crat” who is open to pursue “whatever works,” O’Malley said he would help Maryland’s 780,000 uninsured citizens by working to implement tax credits and create statewide medical insurance buying pools for small businesses that would allow companies to spread risk and reduce fees.
He also vowed to restore cuts to assisted living and drug treatment programs, decrease prescription drug costs by allowing imports from Canada and expand scholarship opportunities for nursing and medical students to keep highly qualified health professionals in the state.
The mayor was less clear about where the money for such initiatives would come from, staying away from dollars and cents in a session that focused primarily on ideas. But the looming financial questions did not concern some in the audience who said O’Malley gave an insightful and competent discussion of state healthcare problems.
“He definitely seems to have an intuitive understanding of the connections between addiction, violence and overall health,” said Kathleen Dooling, 30, a master’s student at Bloomberg.
O’Malley tied many of Baltimore’s health issues to the city’s drug problems.
“This scourge… fuels so many things, and is so ubiquitous, so pervasive and underneath so many of the challenges that we confront that sometimes we forget that it is there,” he said.
The mayor also called for earlier intervention in the lives of young people, calling the state’s juvenile justice system “a national disgrace.”
O’Malley appeared as the first speaker in this year’s fall policy seminar series at the school’s Department of Health Policy and Management. Organized by Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, a doctor and associate professor at Bloomberg, the series will continue Oct. 12 with Republican lieutenant governor candidate Kristen Cox, who Morhaim announced would speak on behalf of the Ehrlich ticket. “This is just part of tying together the retinue of public policy and health care,” Morhaim said. “It’s not just academic, it is political… We try very hard to balance and bridge the gap between politics and policy. You can’t have one without the other.”