June 10, 2010

Analysis: Health planners say Md. needs better info on reform

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Marylanders need better access to primary care doctors and more information about their medical choices, according to a group of doctors and nurses, insurance companies, and business groups advising the state about how to implement federal health care reform legislation.

Thursday’s meeting of the state Health Care Reform Coordinating Council was intended to garner ideas for what to focus on as the council sifts through the health care overhaul throughout the year. And the panels of health, insurance and business leaders all zeroed in on the same major issues.

Council members and health care professionals all agreed that consumer education will be critical, particularly given the sharply divided sentiment on the reform plan. Officials also expect to deal with “misinformation” that will spread as time goes on.

“There is a critical role for consumer engagement if this is going to work,” said Marilyn Moon, chair of the Maryland Health Care Commission. “There needs to be a counter to some of the misinformation perpetrated by people who want to make a quick buck.”

Although Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers said the purpose of the meeting was to “identify the questions” the council must answer, the day quickly became a brainstorming session for how to retain doctors who go to medical school in the state. Vinny DeMarco, president of the Maryland Health Care for All Coalition, brought up the idea of loan forgiveness for medical students who go on to practice in Maryland.

“We need to make sure health care providers and health care workers are there to meet the need [of increasing numbers of insured patients],” DiMarco said. “[We could implement] the reduction of student loans to encourage doctors to go to the places of need.”

Colmers said the council will decide how to approach forming the work groups and prioritizing different aspects of the health care legislation in the coming days, in preparation of an interim report scheduled to be released in July.

“We already know about primary care, and there’s legislation on the books that allows for a state-based loan forgiveness program,” Colmers said. “But with this meeting, we just wanted to cover the waterfront of ideas. And we want to make sure we’re hearing from all interested parties.”

-Erich Wagner