Health Enterprise Zone legislation passes

A program to improve healthcare in minority areas and reduce health disparities was approved by the General Assembly over the weekend.

The pilot program, which now goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley for his signature, would offer tax breaks and other incentives to local health departments and community groups for their programs in these underserved areas – labeled as Health Enterprise Zones.

“Every Marylander, of every race, ethnicity, and nationality, in every part of our state, should have the chance to live a healthy, productive life,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who pushed for the administration bill. “With our Health Enterprise Zone program, we will be able to saturate underserved communities with primary care and other health services to help reduce rates of chronic and often preventable illnesses, such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes and other controllable medical conditions.”

The zones were the result of a work group chaired by University of Maryland School of Medicine Dean Dr. E. Albert Reece. Brown and other state officials were looking for ways to address the disparities in the state that cost Medicare an extra $26 million annually, according to a 2006 report.

That report found that blacks in Maryland are nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma, hypertension and heart failure. This is despite a high number of primary care doctors in the state.

The local health groups and offices will submit proposals to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Community Health Resources Commission outlining their targeted communities and their plans.  

Brown told The Sun in Jauary that the subsidies would likely be capped in the tens of thousands of dollars.

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