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Q&A with Maryland's health-care reform chief

Carolyn Quattrocki may not be well known to most Marylanders, but she is a longtime Annapolis insider. So it’s not surprising that the former special assistant to then-Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and former deputy legislative officer under Gov. Martin O’Malley was chosen by the governor to lead the state’s health reform efforts.

As executive director of the Governor’s Office of Health Care Reform, Quattrocki is overseeing the state’s health reform efforts. Consumers can begin buying insurance on an exchange in October in time for the rollout of reform in January. The 54-year-old mother of four, who balances texting her children with tough policy work, said the job has its intense moments. But she relishes the challenge.

Why do you think we need health reform?

We have 750,000 people here in Maryland who don’t have that basic sense of security and a key to their well-being which is access to health insurance coverage. And they are just one accident or one illness away from bankruptcy. I got a taste of that myself last summer. The irony is I was at a health care reform conference. I was jogging and tripped and fell and broke my knee really badly. It was thousand of dollars in medical bills. I am incredibly lucky that I didn’t have to worry about the lion’s share of those costs.

The other reason [is] that our health care costs are growing at an unsustainable rate.

Some analysts indicate that young single adults will see severe increases in premiums. How will your agency address that?

We are hopeful that premiums will still be quite reasonable.  For example, a 25-year-old non-smoker will have access to regular plans in the Exchange as low as $114-$124 per month. ... Many young people will be more likely to qualify for advanced premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance.  … We are working hard to get the message out to young adults.  

Is one of the obstacles convincing people they can afford health insurance?

We do need to convince people who have their whole lives assumed they would not be able to afford health coverage and assumed they wouldn’t qualify. We need to get the message to them. 

What do you do to stay healthy?

I am back to running again after a year. I do that to say healthy, and it is also a release of stress for me.  

Do you have unhealthy habits that you want to work on?

People recognize me around Annapolis as the woman who carries the large canister of coffee. So I will say that I could cut down on my caffeine and be much better off.

What do you think of the term Obamacare?

It’s funny because the president and his administration seemed initially not to embrace the term, and early on I thought to myself, “I wonder why?” Because it is such a positive sea change. People will look back and realize in much the way people look back at Social Security and Medicare as being something that turned out to be an unbelievably positive development in a way that we take care of one another in this country. 

Is there anything about this job that makes you wake up in the middle of the night?

Absolutely. That may be another unhealthy habit — waking up in the middle of the night and worrying. But the stakes are high. I think the Affordable Care Act presents a very simple proposition: that it is unacceptable that we have so many people without health insurance coverage and we need to fix that. And we also need to control costs and enhance outcomes. That is a very simple goal, but the devil is in the details. But those concerns have also been an unbelievably gratifying part of this undertaking.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ankwalker

 

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