By Len Lazarick
Republican members of the House of Delegates want to slow down Maryland’s rapid implementation of federal health reform, calling it a potential waste of money now that two federal judges have overturned some or all of the law.
“We need to take a deep breath in the state of Maryland,” House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell said at a news conference with most of his 43-member caucus.
“We have till 2014 to implement this.”
Governors and attorneys general in Virginia, Florida and other states have filed lawsuits against what the GOP calls “Obamacare.” But the O’Malley administration has embraced the Affordable Care Act since it was enacted last March, and this year has introduced a package of bills to help Maryland comply with its provisions.
One of the key provisions of the O’Malley administration’s plan is the health benefit exchange, which is designed to help 750,000 uninsured residents get health insurance and provide subsidies to low-income people so they can afford it. The exchange is also designed to help businesses shop for the best and most affordable health insurance plans.
Like representatives of doctors and business groups who testified on the administration bills earlier this week, the Republicans oppose O’Malley plans to create a new government agency to run the exchange, with a board that includes three cabinet secretaries. The Republicans also complained that they had no representation on the coordinating council that developed the plans last year.
Instead, the business groups and the GOP want to set up a nonprofit corporation that also must have open meetings and transparent financial dealings as would a government agency. They also want to protect the role of the private insurance brokers that employ over 20,000 people and provide the health insurance coverage for most of the small employers in the state.
“The most important sector to get input from … is the private sector,” said Del. Wade Kach, R-Baltimore County.
“The only worse thing than dealing with insurance companies is dealing with government agencies,” O’Donnell said.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the administration’s lead spokesman on health care reform, has promised the brokers that they will have a seat at the table in shaping the exchange. But they fear that some small businesses the exchange website will compete with them in offering health coverage.
Brown’s press secretary Mike Raia attended the Republican news conference.
“What I was hearing was a partisan commitment to weaken the efforts that have been made to provide affordable health care” to more Marylanders, Raia said.
“Waiting would set us back and put us behind the curve,” Raia said, undermining the administration’s effort to be “a national model” for implementation of the president’s plan. “It’s irresponsible.”
Health Care for All President Vincent DeMarco, the most prominent advocate for expanding health insurance coverage, said, “Maryland should go forward the way the governor has proposed. It’s a smart way for Maryland to take advantage of the health care act.”
States that don’t start implementing the new law are doing their citizens “a disservice,” DeMarco said. If Maryland delays setting up the new program, “we’re really behind the 8-ball and won’t be ready for 2014. There’s just a lot to do.”
Last Friday, all 43 Republican delegates introduced a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit the state from requiring anyone to buy health insurance coverage, the provision of the federal act that has been struck down by judges in Virginia and Florida.
Two other federal district judges have upheld the national law.