By Graham Moomaw and Rachel Leven
ANNAPOLIS – Federal legislators are expected to finish their work on health care legislation this week, but for state officials, the work is just beginning.
Even though health care reform passed in Washington, it’s states that will have to set up insurance exchanges and expand Medicaid rolls, among other tasks.
The health care reform bill signed into law Tuesday by President Obama is expected to expand insurance coverage to 32 million people. Approximately 261,000 of those newly insured will be Marylanders, according to a congressional study released March 17.
Questions remain about the specific details and effects of implementing the reforms at the state level, but Gov. Martin O’Malley signed an executive order Wednesday through which he hopes to provide some answers.
In a press conference at Anne Arundel Medical Center, O’Malley announced the appointment of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers to an advisory council meant to help the state government carry out the reform in the most efficient and effective way.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Colmers. “Many of the major provisions of the bill will not go into effect until 2014. Some provisions will go into effect more immediately. So we have time to prepare ourselves and make sure that we can articulate and bring together the types of policies and programs in this state in conjunction with what is going on at the national level.”
The Maryland Health Care Reform Coordinating Council hopes to complete a timeline by this summer for implementing the reforms. Brown and Colmers want to make recommendations by the next legislative session.
O’Malley has been quick to estimate $1 billion in savings for Maryland thanks to the legislation. Some of those savings will come from more people with health problems being treated earlier by physicians and not in the emergency room, said Colmers.
More than $100 million a year in savings will come from programs currently funded by the state, such as the Maryland Health Insurance Program, that will not be needed as much because those citizens will have other options.
“I think the O’Malley administration shouldn’t count its collective chickens until this is settled on Capitol Hill and this is far from settled,” said Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell.
Multiple state departments and new advisory committees will be involved in the health coverage coordinating efforts of the council.
“There has to be real changes in the care of poor people because they get cared for eventually anyway,” said Robert Sprinkle, an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. “There’s a (large portion) of people who get cared for very expensively when they could get cared for (more immediately) less expensively.”
O’Malley thanked Obama and the “vast majority” of the Maryland congressional delegation for helping to pass the legislation. Every Marylander in Congress voted for the bill that was signed into law except for Reps. Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville, and Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick.
The governor and the newly appointed council co-chairs said the state will work to lead the nation in implementing health care reform.
“We want to be a national leader as we implement health care reform because a lot of hard work now begins. The legislation has been signed into law but we have to make it work,” O’Malley said.