By Michael Collins
A couple of amazing things happened last week.
First, several members of the House of Delegates from Prince George’s County sent letters to their constituents imploring them to lobby the independent Maryland Health Care Commission to reject Anne Arundel Medical Center’s (AAMC) application to start a cardiac surgery program.
Then two days later, several of them, along with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Senate President Mike Miller held a press conference to drive home the same point, where Miller said, “Prince George’s county is going to stand firm on this cardiac care or guess what? The session is not going to end on April 10.”
The exercise was intended to show political unity and determination. The unintended consequence, however, was to highlight Prince George’s County’s inferiority complex.
The basic issue
Prince George’s county hopes to build a magnificent medical center in Largo to replace its moribund facility in Cheverly. Last October, the Maryland Health Care Commission (MHCC) gave the green light for the new medical center.
Anne Arundel Medical Center’s (AAMC) request for a cardiac surgery program was recommended for approval last month by Dr. Craig Tanio, chairman of the MHCC and the reviewing official for this application. That has Prince George’s elected officials, led by Miller, hopping mad. He is cynically manipulating race, class, and regional rivalries to kill a program he sees as a threat to the viability—and cardiac surgery monopoly—of the Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center (PGRMC) in Largo.
In an August letter to Prince George’s elected officials, Miller claimed that if AAMC’s cardiac surgery program were to be approved before the PGRMC was fully operational—seven years from now—it would have a service unavailable in their county. He even went so far as to say it was like the way Prince George’s had to wait for its casino until Anne Arundel got theirs.
This is astonishing for two reasons. First, it ignores the fact that the existing Prince George’s Hospital Center already has cardiac surgery—AAMC’s program won’t change that. Second, it ignores the history of gaming in Maryland where PG delegates refused to support the slots bill unless no casino was placed in Prince Georges County. But why let facts get in the way of demagoguery?
The letters sent by Prince George’s delegates to their constituents last week followed in the same vein. They argued that somehow AAMC would be offering services that would take away patients from Prince George’s current and future cardiac care unit, and they claimed they were being discriminated against in favor of a wealthier, and presumably whiter, neighbor.
This is the same tactic they have been using to lure the FBI headquarters to Prince Georges. First, it makes a proposal. Second, it claims that Prince George’s does not get its “fair share” of federal facilities. Third, hint there is a whiff of racism involved if Prince George’s doesn’t get the new FBI headquarters.
Of course this argument conveniently ignores that such facilities as Joint Base Andrews, the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Census Bureau, Goddard Space Center, NOAA, the National Archives, and Department of Agriculture are in Prince Georges.
Regardless, if you claim you’re being picked on because of race, some people will believe it and others will be intimidated by the allegation, and cave to your demands.
Miller’s letter and bullying tactics follow a pattern he has perfected over time. It typically starts with character assassination. Then phony accusations are used to cow members of an “independent” commission. And if they don’t bend to his will, write legislation to restructure the commission and remove its commissioners.
Miller used that tactic in 2006 in order to distract the public from the fact that the law he pushed at the behest of Enron lobbyists was about to raise people’s electricity rates by 75 percent. He attacked the chairman of the Public Service Commission as a corrupt lackey of the energy industry. His sin? Following the law that Miller and Enron wrote. Then he introduced legislation to force the chairman out and change the composition of the PSC.
In similar fashion, Miller has assaulted the character and integrity of Dr. Robert Moffit, the commissioner assigned to review PGRMC’s application. He smeared Dr. Moffit as a right-wing nutjob and implied that because he lives in Anne Arundel County, he is out to hurt Prince George’s hospital.
Last week’s letters written by delegates to their constituents did the same, arguing that Dr. Tanio, the MHCC Chairman and the reviewing commissioner for AAMC’s certificate as acting in an “overt discriminatory manner…”
More disturbing, however, are the efforts by Miller, Davis, and other officials to try to whip up envy against Anne Arundel County.
The MHCC vote on AAMC’s application was postponed until February 13. One might expect arm-twisting of MHCC commissioners and attempt to force supporters of AAMC to recuse them from voting.
Should the political pressure and board room tactics fail, anticipate that Prince George’s lawmakers will turn to the courts to stop or delay AAMC from moving forward. This would buy Miller more time to scuttle its application.
If past is prologue, Miller’s last stance will be play he has used so many times before—change the rules of the game. This may include a threat to disband and reconstitute the MHCC to his liking, or adding a rider to a must-pass bill, that would prohibit new cardiac surgery programs until PGRMC is up and running.
The MHCC is an independent commission of experts who make health care recommendations based on data, not politics.
In last week’s press conference, County Executive Baker showed the chip on PG County’s shoulder when he said, “We’re not going to take it lying down. We’re not going to accept ‘politics as usual.’ No we’re not.” —as he, Miller, and the PG County delegation engaged in, well, politics as usual.
Michael Collins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.