MarylandReporter.com spoke with Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative President Vincent DeMarco this week about his group’s three main policy goals for the upcoming legislative session: making prescription drugs more affordable, protecting and building on the Affordable Care Act, and promoting health equity. The 2021 legislative session is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, January 13.
DeMarco, who is one of Annapolis’ most well-known health care lobbyists, said a foremost priority is persuading lawmakers to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation that would have established a permanent funding source for the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. During the 2020 session, the legislation unanimously passed the Senate and overwhelmingly passed the House. Hogan vetoed the legislation along with 21 other bills due to fiscal concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tell our readers a little bit about the Prescription Drug Affordability Board and your group’s efforts to secure a veto override of legislation that would permanently fund it.
DeMarco: We are very very pleased with how the Prescription Drug Affordability Board has been operating under the leadership of Chair Van Mitchell. We have had six forums explaining the board to the public and in each of them we have had someone from the board come and talk about what the board has been doing. And they have been doing a lot to set the stage for making prescription drugs more affordable for Marylanders, including getting information about how high-cost drugs hurt people. They (the board) heard from Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, they heard from insurers, CareFirst made a presentation. And we are going to make a presentation soon to them about how individuals are hurt by high-cost drugs. And that’s what these forums have been about…we are going to work to override the unfortunate veto by the governor of the funding bill…we are confident it will be overridden and then the board will have the money to go forward.
How do you plan to expand the Affordable Care Act here in Maryland?
DeMarco:We are very very pleased about the Affordable Care Act’s implementation in Maryland and this is an area in which we are working closely with the governor and his administration. We are very pleased to have worked with the Hogan administration to implement the Easy Enrollment legislation…There are a couple of ways that we want to build on the Easy Enrollment. One is we wrote a letter to the governor in April when the pandemic started and a lot people were getting unemployed-that there should be a similar kind of easy enrollment at the unemployment desk. So when you file for unemployment insurance you should immediately be connected with the health exchange if you want to be connected…Another way that we want to build on the Affordable Care Act is through individual subsidies…. easy enrollment is great for people who get free health care but there are some people who are above the Medicaid level for whom the subsidies from the federal government are not enough.. It (the subsidies legislation) didn’t get enacted last year. A study was created. And based on that study we are hopeful that an individual subsidies program like Massachusetts and California and New Jersey have will be enacted in Maryland to help get more people enrolled.
What is the goal behind Health Equity Resource Communities and how do they work?
DeMarco: We had a press conference [in September] about how we want to resuscitate the old health enterprise zones, fund it with a 1 penny per dollar increase in the state’s alcohol sales tax. And the idea is to go after and reduce unacceptable disparities in health care. Particularly between low-income people and upper income people and between people of color and whites. This program I think will do that and we have a broad coalition in support of that…That’s the third major item on our agenda. So we have a big agenda for next session.