MD Exchange Early Innovators App

Md. health secretary urges action on health care

Dec 17, 2010

By The Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland lawmakers should set up the basic framework for a health benefit exchange required under a new federal law during the 2011 legislative session, the state’s secretary of health and mental hygiene told a health care reform council Friday.

If legislators act promptly, Secretary John Colmers said, the state will improve its odds of receiving certain federal funding available for "early innovators" and make it easier to hire an executive director for the program.

Colmers said the state could delay decisions on more controversial items such as whether all insurance carriers will be able to participate in the exchange.

"A lot of the decisions can’t be made this year, we don’t have enough information," Colmers said during a meeting of the Health Care Reform Coordinating Council. The panel was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley last spring and is studying how the new federal health care reform law will affect Maryland. Council members have held public meetings around the state to collect input from residents about how Maryland should implement health care reform.

Staffers advising the panel are recommending the initial benefit exchange be a public entity to ensure accountability and transparency, since government organizations are required to hold open meetings and provide access to financial records. They note that the exchange could possibly be turned over to a nonprofit organization several years down the road, depending on how the program evolves, but Colmers said he was not aware of any interested groups at this time.

The major elements of federal health care reform become effective in 2014, but Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who co-chairs the state reform council with Colmers, urged immediate action on exploring how financial incentives could be used to address racial and ethnic disparities in areas such as infant mortality.

"There is some data we already know, " Brown said. "Where we do have data, we have to act on it today."

Brown also stressed that the state should pinpoint an agency to lead the reform efforts and that would likely report to the governor.

"You need an individual that can provide directions or offer instructions," Brown said.

Maryland has roughly 700,000 to 800,000 uninsured residents at this time, according to state health department estimates. Once the federal reform law is fully implemented, that number will likely be cut in half, according to a report issued by the council over the summer. The federal law won’t help all uninsured residents because it doesn’t apply to people who aren’t citizens and not everyone who is eligible for Medicaid applies for it.

Copyright © 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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