By Len Lazarick
Maryland continues to press ahead with aggressive implementation of federal health care reform. Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed the members of the board of the new Health Benefit Exchange, a key component of the Affordable Care Act, and named the head of the new Office of Health Care Reform on the governor’s staff.
The Health Benefit Exchanges are designed to provide easy access to affordable health insurance over the Internet, along with federal subsidies for the uninsured who can’t afford it.
“Maryland is a leading state in the exchange world,” said Joel Ario, national
director of the Office of Health Insurance Exchanges in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ario attended the press conference at Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center to announce the appointments.
“Maryland has traditionally been a leader of health care reform,” Ario said in an interview.
From the governor on down, Maryland has fully embraced the massive federal overhaul of health insurance that other governors have filed lawsuits to stop, derisively calling it Obamacare.
But Ario pointed out that “there are 49 states that have accepted planning grants” for the health benefit exchanges, including Maryland which got $7.2 million to implement the exchange. “At the ground level, the people who are actually doing the work are continuing to move forward,” he said, even while political leaders are seeking to overturn the law.
The new nine-member Health Benefit Exchange board is chaired by state Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein. Also serving ex-officio is Therese Goldsmith, the new state insurance commissioner O’Malley appointed yesterday. She had been serving on the Public Service Commission. Ben Steffen, director of the Maryland Health Care Commission, serves on the board as well.
O’Malley also appointed: Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association and a former Maryland health secretary; Lisa Dubay, a senior health researcher at the Urban Institute; Jennifer Goldberg, assistant director for health advocacy of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau; Tom Saquella, former president of the Maryland Retailers Association; Darrell Gaskin, a health economist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Enrique Martinez-Vidal, director of State Coverage Initiatives for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Gaskin said his research involved “understanding the barriers to care to vulnerable populations” and disparities in health care.
Martinez-Vidal spent six years at the Maryland Health Care Commission and five years on the staff of the Economic Matters Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates.
Saquella is the only representative of the business community, but Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who guided the passage of the law, said the important thing is that they are from the private sector and experts outside of government.
At hearings on the bill, business representatives expressed concern that the board of the Health Benefit Exchange would be dominated by government officials.
Bill Simmons, president of Group Benefit Services of Hunt Valley, a major provider of health insurance for small businesses, said, “I think the composition of the board is excellent.”
“The brokers and administrators are very impressed with all the state has done” to implement health care reform. Businesses involved in health insurance were not permitted to serve on the board, but Simmons expects he and others to serve on special advisory boards to the Health Benefit Exchange.
“We have a dream team for this board,” Sharfstein said. “They are people who are absolute leaders in their fields.”
Carolyn Quattrocki was named executive director of the Office of Health Care Reform. As O’Malley’s deputy legislative officer, she helped win passage of the new laws.